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Kaua‘i Police Department budget hearing highlights vacancy problem

LIHU‘E — Amid national trends and a series of retirements, the Kaua‘i Police Department has struggled recently to fill a number of vacant positions.

The department has hired 83 officers since 2016, including a total of 36 during a hiring surge in 2020 and 2021, which led to the department reaching a low of eight sworn vacancies in July 2021.

But hiring slowed in 2022, and the number of vacant positions has climbed to a total of 43 (24 sworn and 19 unsworn) by March 2023.

Kaua‘i Police Department Chief Todd Raybuck faced questions about vacancies at the departmental budget review meeting before the Kauai County Council on Friday.

“Our hire rate has not kept up with our attrition rate,” said Raybuck, who highlighted recent efforts at recruitment, including partnerships with the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and Kaua‘i Community College to create a police prep exam course.

The 10-week course will begin in the summer of 2023, and is aimed at helping interested applicants pass the KPD entrance exams. Nine applicants are currently being processed in the newest recruit class.

County council Member Billy DeCosta asked Raybuck what the department had been doing to improve retention, pointing out that several high-ranking officers have recently announced their retirements.

“It seems like we’ve lost some key players, and we don’t want to lose any more,” said DeCosta.

“As far as retention, one of the things we need to focus on is looking at opportunities … to improve the way we work in our department and provide them with the equipment, training and challenges they need to be fulfilled in this position,” said Raybuck.

DeCosta then zeroed in on the high-ranking deputy chief position, which has been vacant since the resignation of Deputy Chief Stan Olsen in August 2022.

“That position hasn’t been filled for a long time,” said DeCosta. “We didn’t have any qualified candidates?”

“There are qualified candidates,” Raybuck responded. “It’s been my goal to promote a deputy chief from within the department. However, every promotion I make up creates a vacancy below. I’ve made the determination that I would prefer the experts who are doing such a great job in the positions they’re in.”

Part of the difficulty of recruiting for that particular position is the fact that the deputy chief makes less money than many lower-ranking officers, and is not protected by a collective bargaining agreement.

Funding allocated to vacant positions is often used to fund overtime pay for other officers to do the work of those roles, or to hire temporary employees. This is the case with the deputy chief role, which has been filled by a temporary hire who fulfills similar functions.

The chief also pointed out that there are national trends that affect recruiting and retention.

“Today, finding people who want to be police officers is more difficult than probably in my 30-plus years of law enforcement,” said Raybuck. “We have continuous attacks in the media based upon some obviously heinous actions of individuals, who probably should never have been police officers from the get-go. That does impact people’s desire and commitment to being police officers.”

Census data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows local police jobs have declined by 18,000 nationwide since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But this is not a problem specific to law enforcement. As a January 2023 article from the Marshall Project highlights, the number of people employed in all government jobs dropped at a similar rate since early 2020.

KPD budget boost

Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami’s proposed fiscal year 2023-24 budget would boost funding for the police department by 11.2 percent — $4.67 million — over the previous fiscal year, to a total of $46.4 million.

This is in line with proposed increases for other departments.

This police department funding boost would be spurred largely by an increase in salaries and benefits due to collective bargaining (about $2.5 million), and the decision to purchase 15 new vehicles rather than leasing vehicles as they had in years past (about $1.5 million).

Raybuck said the department plans to replace 15 “end-of-life” vehicles (those with more than 90,000 miles on them) each year. Out of the 95 vehicles in the fleet, he reported, 35 are considered “end-of-life.”


Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or
Source: The Garden Island

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