LIHU‘E — In 2020, the Patrol Services Bureau of the Kaua‘i Police Department responded to nearly 50,000 calls for service.
That’s responding to 911 emergency calls, family-violence and neighborhood-dispute calls, citizen complaints, traffic investigations as well as misdemeanors, proactive beat checks and general enforcement.
“Patrol is the backbone of KPD,” KPD Chief Todd Raybuck said Wednesday.
“The ones that patrol, the ones that respond to the calls of need, they are the ones that are the front line providing emergency response and customer service to our community. They are responsible for many divergent duties.”
Wednesday, Raybuck presented additional findings of a workload and staffing study conducted by Matrix Consulting Group to the Kaua‘i County Council. The study concluded that the department is lacking in its proactivity services due to staffing shortages.
“In order to provide high-level service, it’s not enough to respond to call to call to call,” Raybuck said. “They have to have sufficient time outside of that community-driven workload to proactively address issues and conduct community-oriented policing services.”
Matrix conducted an initial study in 2017, focusing on staffing and an organization review of the department. A supplemental study was conducted the year after, and a second supplemental study was requested to include more information that was not present in 2016, like body-camera use, for example.
This latest one, released in 2020, was the focus of Raybuck’s briefing to the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee, as requested by committee Chair Felicia Cowden.
Proactive patrol services include tending to community issues and other services beyond just answering calls. According to the study, the department should have a minimum of 40% to 45% committed time for patrol proactivity.
During the highest call-volume times, — between 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, with increased calls in the afternoon — KPD proactivity can drop below 25% in some cases, and below 10%, according to the report.
And increased call volume can negatively impact the already-short-staffed patrol division, leading to decreased availability for investigation follow-ups and training, and increased wait times for citizens and workload per officer.
KPD is authorized to have 162 sworn positions, with current staffing at 144. Of that, the department has 72 patrol officers for 78 authorized spots. This means KPD is currently operating on less than two full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents.
Matrix recommended a short-term goal of increasing patrol staffing to 89 positions, up 11 officers and at least one sergeant. A medium- and long-term goal would be to set patrol staffing at 97 officers for a 45% proactivity time.
To combat staffing shortages, the department has decreased transfers out of patrol, which in turn has reduced that average canceled days off per month, which resulted in a 57% overtime reduction.
But, that hasn’t exactly helped the department, with Raybuck likening it to the phrase, “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Understaffing also leads to diminishing services.
Raybuck noted that, 90% of the time, officers are not able to do proactive work. This leads to complaints, low morale and abandoned vehicles without tags, among other issues.
Due to the nature of an isolated island, KPD is the only patrolling authority. When inundated with calls, resources are quickly depleted. Raybuck said KPD “very rarely” has 12 patrol officers positioned to meet a 10-minute response time on an emergency call.
“(Travel time) ranges anywhere from 12 minutes all the way up to 26 minutes,” Raybuck said. “That does not account for Hanalei to Ha‘ena or beyond Waimea out to Polihale, which is a significant drive time.”
“Ultimately, these issues underscore the need for proactivity to be maintained at a higher level than other jurisdictions would require, in order to mitigate the response time effects presented by Kaua‘i’s geography and reduce the probability of all patrol units being tied up on other calls for service as additional calls are generated,” the report reads.
One measure the department is looking to review and possibly implement is a 4/10 patrol schedule, which would increase overlap up to 2.5 hours during a time when call volumes are at a high.
Difficulty to recruit
It takes about 18 months for the Kaua‘i Police Department to fill a vacancy.
Potential officers go through a written test, physical, psychological and background checks, training and shadowing before they’re out on their own.
“The training program is something we can’t shorten,” Raybuck said. “That’s the timeline it takes to get people able to do that job with the tools and education they need to perform a very critical service in our community.”
In the last two years, KPD has hired about 30 officers, Raybuck said.
Councilmember Luke Evslin said the department has not grown in over 25 years, and according to the General Plan, should recruit over 100 new officers by the year 2035 to meet national-staffing levels.
The crux of the issue, however, is getting recruits through the lengthy, year-and-a-half-long process. And one of the hardest parts is just getting people to show up.
If 100 people sign up to take the written exam, Raybuck said, only about 50 attend the test. Then there are issues with passing the exam.
“Out of the written test we have a failure rate between 55% to sometimes 80%,” Raybuck reported.
The department recently switched over to a new written exam, and in this first class to take it in January had over an 80% passing rate.
The highest cause of attrition at KPD is retirement. Without penalty, personnel can retire after 25 to 30 years, depending on when they started.
“If I have someone retire today it takes me 18 months to replace that person who retires today,” Raybuck continued. “So, we have to continuously recruit and put people through training to try to continue to overcome that attrition rate and fill our vacancies.”
Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro pointed out that even if the council were to authorize more positions via the budget process, KPD would likely not be able to fill those slots, either.
“Seeing the police budget over the years, I have always thought police was short-staffed and they couldn’t fill vacancies,” Kaneshiro said. “Even if we look at the study and say there should be more positions, even if we added the positions, I don’t think police would be able to fill them.”
Kaneshiro suggested it’s more an issue with the difficulty and demands of the job, to which Raybuck agreed.
“Recruitment and retention is a problem across America in policing,” Raybuck said. “To be honest, the years of scrutiny and much of it justified, on the profession as a whole, has diminished people’s desire to do it anymore. Who wants to come to work, risk your life, potentially have to take someone’s life, and worry about every day being criticized for every action you take?”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.