Senate to vote on funding request for Kona sheriff’s lieutenant

Kona Sheriffs watch as a prisoner is loaded into a Department of Public Safety's Corrections Division van to be transported back to Hawaii Community Correctional Center. DPS Director Noland Espinda testified that a second lieutenant for the Kona unit will allow for more effective and efficient supervision of the line deputies and enhance the capacity of the Sheriff Division to provide the necessary services to the Judiciary and the Hawaii Island community. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii Island’s lone sheriff’s lieutenant publicly opposed a bill that would allot money to fund a second lieutenant on the island, despite strong support for the measure by his superiors.

Lt. Patrick K. Kawai submitted written testimony as a private citizen before the Ways and Means committee on Friday, which detailed his reasons why he was against Senate Bill 3079. If approved, the bill would establish funding for a full-time permanent lieutenant position in Kona. The funding would cover the initial six-month hiring period and the one-time costs for the purchase of position-related uniforms and equipment.

“The creation of a Sheriff Lieutenant position for Kona is not only fiscally irresponsible, it is not needed, and redundant,” Kawai stated. “The creation of an additional Sheriff Sergeant position for Kona would be more appropriate, effective, and efficient to carry out the mission of the Sheriff Division.”

The measure will go for a final reading in the Senate today. If passed, it will move to the House.

Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Hamakua, Waimea, Waikoloa and Kona, is sponsor of SB 3079. On Monday, she said the legislation had been met with no opposition in the Senate and expects it to pass its third reading.

Inouye added she was disappointed and surprised by Kawai’s testimony.

“This is the first time we’ve ever heard of a full-time employee that would debate a bill meant to help their department,” she said.

Inouye thinks there is no merit to Kawai’s testimony.

“A person with this attitude I believe is why we want our own — someone who can address the west side of the island,” Inouye said of Kawai’s opposition to a Kona unit lieutenant.

On Friday, Nolan P. Espinda, director of the Department of Public Safety, also submitted testimony explaining the sheriff’s division for the Hawaii Section is responsible for all courthouses in Hilo, Waimea and Kona, including the physically separated drug and family courts.

“One lieutenant, whose office is currently in Hilo, supervises this vast geographical area of control,” Espinda stated. “A second lieutenant for the Kona unit will allow for more effective and efficient supervision of the line deputies and enhance the capacity of the Sheriff Division to provide the necessary services to the Judiciary and the Hawaii Island community.”

Kawai addressed the geographical issues in his testimony. He noted the daily major challenge for the department is providing adequate staffing for court-ordered transports. The lieutenant stated that issue will minimize after the new Kona courthouse is complete since the new facility will consolidate the Kona judicial facilities to one location.

The courthouse is set to open in the summer of 2019.

The state Judiciary also provided testimony to the Ways and Means committee supporting the bill. Third Circuit Court Chief Judge Greg Nakamura stated the vast geographical area of control on the Big Island makes it difficult for the Sheriff Division to effectively and efficiently supervise line deputies and provide necessary services with only one lieutenant position.

“Having a lieutenant position for the Kona side of the island will help make delivery of services more equitable between the two sides of the island,” Nakamura testified.