Kauai Police short staffed

The Kauai Police Department is short staffed.

Patrol officers frequently work 17-hour shifts and fill in on their days off, only to staff a marginally adequate number of positions. In 2017, the vast majority of the department’s investigators said they felt it was impossible to keep up with their workload. And police administrators are in a constant struggle to hire new recruits fast enough to keep pace with the number of officers leaving the department.

Finding and retaining quality officers is not a problem unique to the KPD. National averages for law enforcement officers per capita have been dropping steadily for the last 15 years, and reports about officer shortages have been the subject of recent news articles and broadcasts in cities across the country.

But the problem is particularly acute on Kauai, and finding a solution — assuming a practical one exists — may be prove to be exceptionally difficult.

The numbers

The average county police department in 2017 had 2.8 full-time sworn officers for every 1,000 residents, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics. On Kauai, that number is less than two.

According to the most recent figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Kauai’s full-time resident population is about 72,000, meaning the KPD would need roughly 200 officers to match national averages. Acting Police Chief Michael Contrades said the department is authorized to employ 162 officers, but has only been able to fill 143 of those positions.

And the KPD’s need for more officers becomes even more apparent when the island’s tourist population is taken into account.

The Hawaii State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism estimated Kauai’s average daily population was approaching 94,000 in 2016 and projected that number to exceed 99,000 by 2020. That figure may be low, according to Contrades, who said Kauai probably hosts 25-30,000 tourists on any given day.

A conservative estimate would put the population of Kauai at 97,000, meaning the KPD actually has less than 1.5 officers per 1,000 people, nearly half the national average of 2.8 in comparable law enforcement agencies.

The officers

These are not simply abstract numbers to KPD officers, the majority of whom reported feeling the strain in a 2017 survey. In a questionnaire filled out by over three-quarters of all KPD employees, 83 percent of respondents said staffing levels have not kept up with Kauai’s needs.

Nearly half of KPD employees reported feeling overwhelmed by their workload to the point that it was impossible to keep up, and only five percent felt they were tasked appropriately.

“I hate to say it, but we’re almost in desperation mode right now,” KPD Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce said in a recent interview.

His sentiments have been echoed by a number of police officers throughout the KPD ranks. Last month, Sergeant Lance Okasaki told a group of civilians who signed up for the KPD’s Citizens Police Academy the department’s shortage of cops was nearing an emergency.

In order to illustrate Okasaki’s point, a patrol officer related a story in which he made a stop and found knives “in every compartment” of the suspects car. “If I was by myself, it could have gone real bad real fast,” the officer said.

Fortunately, another patrol officer was nearby and able to assist in the arrest, but that is not always the case.

According to a 2017 study of the KPD conducted by an independent consulting group, 0.86 backup units respond to every call for police service from the community. In other words, one out of every seven times a KPD patrol officer is called to a potentially dangerous situation, they must respond alone.

Other areas in the department are severely and perpetually short-staffed as well. The 2017 consulting group’s study found the KPD’s investigative services bureau, “has been plagued by a large number of vacancies,” which “resulted in larger caseloads for other staff,” ultimately delaying investigations and forcing detectives to work “cases outside of their experience and training.”

Every single officer in the investigative services bureau who participated in the 2017 survey reported feeling overworked to some degree. Eighty-one percent said they are “always busy and can never catch up,” while the remaining officers said they are busy but can “usually keep up.” No one in investigative services reported having the right balance of work and time available.

The solution?

Contrades admitted the department has simply not been able to keep up with the demands of Kauai’s growing tourist and resident population.

The KPD has ten cops patrolling the island at any given time, a number that has essentially remained stagnant for at least the past three decades, even though Kauai’s population has increased by roughly 50 percent during that period and tourism has risen dramatically.

Contrades said the goal is to eventually more than double the number of beats. He is in the process of applying for federal grants to pay for one more patrol position, but funding is only part of the problem.

“It’s hard to go to county council — it’s hard to go to the mayor — and say, ‘give us additional positions,’ when we’re having difficulty filling the ones that we currently have,” Contrades said.

Six new officers will graduate their initial training this week, and three new officers were recently hired, Contrades said, but still the department is losing ground.

An additional ten vacancies are expected in the department this year, as officers retire or resign to move on to other opportunities, according to Contrades. He said former officers most commonly cite a lack of affordable housing, the high cost of living and family commitments as reasons for leaving the KPD.

Contrades explained he and other KPD administrators have been working for years to resolve the department’s struggles with recruitment and retention.

One issue, Contrades said, was the department had previously lost a lot of potential recruits because of the amount of time it took to hire them. According to Contrades, a review of the KPD’s hiring process was conducted about seven years ago, and steps were taken to significantly reduce the amount of time required to bring a new recruit on board.

Contrades said the department is developing a “police apprentice program,” which will offer employment to young people thinking about becoming a cop. KPD recruits cannot legally join the force before the age of 20 and-a-half, but Contrades believes the new program — expected to start this summer — will allow prospective recruits to get a jump start on their training and give them a chance to get acclimated to the police lifestyle.

“I want the community to know that we’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Contrades said.

12 Comments
  1. coolio February 26, 2019 6:40 am Reply

    Oh good, Now any criminal who reads the paper can now rejoice! Well done GI…


  2. Kauaidoug February 26, 2019 7:45 am Reply

    Taking too long to hire? Maybe that should be looked in to. Housing shortage and be willing to bet there are issues with traffic and our inadequate infrastructure.


  3. Joe Public February 26, 2019 8:19 am Reply

    Maybe if Administrations was fair and did not have so much favoritism for siblings and former lovers, more employees would be inclined to continue to work at KPD instead of leave.

    The current Administration has to many “favorites” that are currently protected.

    Can not wait for the arrival of the new Chief to clean house.


  4. Joe Public February 26, 2019 8:23 am Reply

    If the present administration did not have so many favorites, like placing siblings and former lovers in office position, maybe more of the employees would have remained with KPD.

    As it is now, the Administrators of KPD places their friends, siblings/family members, and lovers in positions that keeps them behind a desk, while the others actually have to do the work.

    Can not wait for the new Chief to arrive to clean house.


  5. I saw a Vampire once February 26, 2019 11:44 am Reply

    About 140 cops. 50 is the number at 50,000 residents.


  6. randy kansas February 26, 2019 12:32 pm Reply

    interesting, but I doubt the tourists are a big worry on crime….unless they are targeted for traffic violations to increase revenue…


  7. UnderBrainOverpaid February 26, 2019 2:05 pm Reply

    Most KPD officers are hired by nepotism and are undereducated and overpaid.

    Who wouldn’t want a 70K starting job with 7-10K for clothing a year and $2-3 hr extra for integrity pay (not protecting drug dealers/no complaints)?

    Most people on the island are afraid of KPD and their gang of no goods. They have drug dealers as cops and also family members of drug dealers as cops so how can you respect and want to join a force where crime and criminal activities are accepted?

    There’s a few good cops and like they say to know a good cop is to know a kpd cop that has been passed up on promotions year after year while the dirty ones get promoted fast and furious.

    The dilemma is my new for Kauai and Andy island in the state of Hawaii. If you believe that the Kealoha public corruption case is an isolated incident with HPD then you haven’t lived in Hawaii too long to understand the dynamics of the plantation mentality.

    The truth hurts and no one likes to talk about it but someone has to. This is the crux of all problems in the state of Hawaii and the root is the public officials and police depts in the state of Hawaii.

    Even when two good kpd officers identified that an officer was at fault for the wrongful death of a 19 yr being ran over, they are silenced and the state brings in a so called experts to changes the laws of physics. It worked but announced a precedence of public corruption. That state expert should be criminally charged with obstruction of justice and perjury during a trial.

    The support the kpd two officers that submitted an official report saying that anyone with the same training as the accused officer would not have made the same mistake. It justifies the integrity of those officers and validates the training standards. It was used to award the family millions of dollars that the county of Kauai had to pay while the same officer enjoys life in uniform collecting 100K a year.

    Wonder why Kauai doesn’t trust its public officials?


  8. WestKauai February 26, 2019 5:59 pm Reply

    So why is it that when traffic is held up for an accident “investigation”, there are 8-10 officers standing around while maybe one or two officers are doing something?


  9. Same old February 26, 2019 9:27 pm Reply

    Why would anyone want to work for this corrupt department?

    They will continue to lose Officer’s because they don’t care about them. If I paid $150k to train an employee best be known I would do almost anything to keep them.

    Good luck KPD that new Chief is gonna clean house!!


  10. ShotCaller February 27, 2019 1:13 pm Reply

    KPD Officer is known by many as a Half cop Half mafia shot caller. Now that’s some scary shit when he promotes guys who do dirt like he did to rise to the top faster than a kpd officer serving over 25-30 years.

    Kauai is in big trouble now and whatever good came about changing the culture in the Dept is gone to the worst possible command.

    This is terrifying for the citizens on Kauai. Good luck with these guys in charge. Perry was a BaD KPD police chief but when we thought President Bush was the worst possible leader we could ever live to see and then we have this. The same goes for KPD now.

    These wanna be gangsters hiding behind a badge and gun is a terrible representation of what people have been told to trust and have faith in.

    These clowns are the worst criminals the islands have ever seen since their connections to the Kauai Serial Killer and a former kpd officer who is a convicted rapist got away with murder. A lot of people know he killed the poor girl and no one has the balls or courage to take the perp down.

    There’s only cowards in kpd and no real heroes with courage to buck the corrupt system. Another Kealoha case playing out in the KAuai police Dept. Until a federal investigation cleans the corrupt judicial system on kauai, those sworn to protect will continue to get away with crimes and murders.

    The truth hurt and nobody wants to talk about the serious problems that plagues Kauai’s public corruption.

    They have a bounty in my life and have tried to murder me and the same people who set up the murder of Aurero Moore has tried several times to set up my murder at Anahola beach like they did Moore. I know who they are and other people in gov know who they are.


  11. Debra Kekaualua February 27, 2019 3:43 pm Reply

    Wow, i am surprised! This new commenting style is actually telling the true of what has too long been squashed via the powerful make up of cok tgi judiciary fake state militarized feeling! i knew i wasnt alone, but sure got raked over the coals by other commentators dead set to dismiss everything i have tried to share, discuss, open dialogue etc. Whomever is allowing THIS kind of conversation, mAhalo!


  12. Roderick Green March 2, 2019 6:51 am Reply

    Very sad and disheartening to read some of the bogus comments on here. My suggestion to anyone who has information on police corruption is to report it either to the Kauai Police Commission, or the Office of Professional Standards. Otherwise, you are just as guilty as the “corrupt officers” you claim exist. It is very easy to stand on the sidelines and make allegations. If you truly believe there are drug dealers in the department and “wannabe gangsters” then name names.
    Kudos to the hardworking members of the Kauai Police Department.
    Many of them are heroes from what I see from them on a daily basis. And despite some of the negative criticism they receive, they still come to work every day to protect our island.


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