‘Expensive mistake’

LIHUE — Department of Public Works officials are reviewing current policies and procedures after thieves stole $86,000 in equipment from two county facilities in July.

“It’s pretty amazing and egregious that this thing happened — it’s an expensive mistake,” Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura told County Engineer Larry Dill on Wednesday, when the seven-member board allocated $86,000 from a county self-insurance fund to replace a service vehicle, office equipment, tools and emergency generator that were stolen within a two-week period. 

“The work tools, truck and generator are crucial to deliver plumbing services and to prepare for unexpected natural disasters,” Dill wrote in a Sept. 29 memo to the County Council. “We are revisiting our policies and procedures on securing facilities and the loaning of equipment to deter similar reoccurrences in the future.” 

The first theft occurred on July 7, when a thief or thieves broke into the Department of Public Works plumber’s office in Lihue and stole a $40,000 county-owned Ford F-250 pickup truck along with $10,000 in office equipment and plumbing tools.

Law enforcement officials later found the truck “very badly burned and not usable.” 

The $36,000 emergency generator, and the trailer attached to it, was stolen about two weeks later on July 18, when county employees dropped off two generators at the Koloa Fire Station for Koloa Plantation Days, which was scheduled to begin the following day. 

Generators and other equipment are sometimes borrowed by community organizations at no charge for certain approved events.  

“This is a practice that we’ve done a lot in the past and then we would get them back after the weekend,” Dill said. “Apparently, the person holding the event went to pick up the generators and found one, rather than two, waiting for them.”

A police report, he said, was filed shortly afterward and is currently under investigation.

“Hopefully that will be fruitful, but I’m not overly optimistic,” Dill said. 

The theft of the 25-kilowatt generator prompted Department of Public Works officials to meet with Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and county legal staff “to revise the way we handle these community events.”

“As you probably know, we receive a lot of requests for public support for generators and use of the county stage, and it’s very appropriate for the county to support these good events that occur out there, but we need to make sure that we protect ourselves and protect our equipment,” Dill said. 

Protocols for the use of county equipment, now being reviewed by Carvalho’s administration, would not permit employees to drop off borrowed equipment at interim pick-up locations overnight that are not secure, Dill said.

“We would make sure that the party borrowing generators or other equipment would be picking it up from us and be responsible for it until it gets returned to us,” Dill said. “We’re still finalizing the details of those protocols, but generally speaking, we hope that we would avoid those sorts of thefts again.” 

Councilman Mel Rapozo said he was concerned by the dearth of security in place.

“It makes sense to me that they need to come pick it up — I don’t know why we’re loaning those things out, No. 1,” Rapozo said. “To steal it right out of the fire station — that is baffling.” 

Department of Public Works officials are also looking at ways to enhance security measures at county facilities. 

At the Department of Public Works facility where the county service vehicle and equipment were stolen, Dill said officials are seeking to add motion sensor lights to deter future thefts and obtain preliminary cost estimates for security alarms and surveillance systems. 

Specific criteria, Yukimura said, also should be developed to define and determine which community events can receive loaned county equipment. 

“This is public property that is not supposed to be used for private use,” Yukimura said. “I do think it would be good to get our house in order so that it’s really clear what is qualified and what is not qualified.” 

Rapozo, in the meantime, offered his own plea for help.

“I know somebody knows where that generator is right now,” Rapozo said. “If you turn it into the fire station tonight under the cover of darkness, no questions asked, we promise not to prosecute you — I don’t know if I can do that, but I just did.”

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