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Proposed KPD facility draws mixed response

KAPA‘A — A handful of residents voiced opposition to the Kaua‘i Police Department’s proposed Kawaihau substation during an informational meeting held online Wednesday.

The 7,020-square-foot proposed substation would replace an existing residential building on the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital campus, east of the Kawaihau and Iwaena roads juncture.

The meeting was prompted by a draft environmental assessment published by the state currently under review for public comment through next month.

KPD Chief Todd Raybuck cited a long-standing need for a permanent KPD facility in the Kawaiahau District, which encompasses the area from Wailua Bridge to Moloa‘a Bridge.

“The Kawaiahau District is Kaua‘i’s most-populated district,” he said. “It has the highest number of police calls for services … In 2020, officers responded to nearly 21,000 calls for service in the Kawaiahau District.”

In contrast, the second-busiest district, Lihu‘e, reported 13,307 police calls for service in 2020.

Kawaiahau does not have a fully equipped police substation within its borders, despite high levels of activity. Officers reported to a substation in Hanalei prior to 2015, when they moved into a shared space at the Kapa‘a armory. But major renovations, including asbestos removal, pushed the Kawaiahau District’s 30-plus officers into a small storage room at the county Department of Public Works Kapa‘a base yard in 2017.

“Being able to move into the center of Kapa‘a … obviously resulted in a significant reduction in our officers’ drive times,” Raybuck said. “And those drive times allowed our police officers to be in the patrol areas where they serve much quicker, providing needed services to the Kawaiahau District when they were needed, versus having to drive all the way from Hanalei.”

Plans for the substation under discussion Wednesday began in 2014, when KPD scouted potential construction sites. There is no question the building is needed, according to Raybuck, who said a return to the armory is not viable due to its size, location in a flood- and tsunami-evacuation zone and shared use with other county departments.

“The Kapa‘a armory was always viewed as a short-term solution for a police station in the Kawaiahau District. It was never intended, nor designed, for a permanent police station,” Raybuck said.

The proposed substation would include 45 parking stalls, administrative spaces and offices, a holding cell, interview rooms, a break room, a squad room, locker rooms, a multi-purpose training room, bathrooms and other support spaces, according to the draft EA.

These resources will bolster the department’s service in the Kawaiahau District by improving response times and furthering the commitment to community policing, Raybuck said.

“They’re not just simply a police car that passes through the neighborhood every once in a while or shows up when there’s a call for service,” he explained. “The police officers, they get to know the neighbors in the area, get to engage with the children in the area, and they get to know the community they serve on a long-term basis.”

According to the chief, the construction of residential, neighborhood-based police stations is a trend throughout the U.S., which is also the case with substations in Waimea and Hanalei located in residential areas.

Neighbors of the proposed site disputed KPD’s claim that no other feasible site exists within Kapa‘a, airing fears of decreased property values and increases in traffic and criminal activity.

“I have a lot of respect for the police officers who are in our area, and I know that they do a good job,” said Colleen McCracken. “I just don’t want the substation right in my backyard.”

Raybuck assured meeting participants that KPD would institute site-specific policies to mitigate noise and activity. Any individuals processed at the Kawaiahau substation would be juveniles released to their parents or adults charged with misdemeanors or non-violent crimes.

“Here at the Lihu‘e main station, I oftentimes see people being released. They leave quickly from the neighborhood. They do not want to be in the area where the police are. They want to go home, they want to get back to their families and their life,” the chief said. “They certainly don’t want to commit crimes within the area of the place where they’ve just been released.”

McCracken said she did not believe Raybuck’s assurances. But another attendee, Waimea resident Stephanie Iona, shared her confidence in the police department.

“The same concerns happened in Waimea when we were having our meetings out here with the police department … everything that Colleen and people were talking about are the same concerns we had,” Iona said, noting she initially opposed the Waimea substation. “I want to tell you that, for a fact, everything that was said by the officers at that time happened.”

The Kawaihau substation would cost an estimated $8 million. Construction for the proposed project would begin in fall 2022 and conclude in winter 2023. Its size is intended to accommodate a projected near-doubling of the police department’s size by 2035.

Kaua‘i County has extended the period for public comment on the environmental assessment through Sept. 23. The draft EA can be accessed online through the “Online Library of EAs and EISs” tab at health.hawaii.gov/oeqc/.

County DPW Building Division Chief Doug Haigh closed Wednesday’s meeting by assuring that all residents who submitted comments directly to the DPW will soon receive responses in writing.

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Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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