More police officers for Kona: Chief talks new hires at chamber Focus Luncheon

  • Mayor Harry Kim outlines his “Vision for Maunakea” at the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce Focus Luncheon Friday at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Police Chief Paul Ferreira addresses the crowd at the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce Focus Luncheon Friday. (Laura Ruminski / West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — More police officers are expected to come to Kona.

Police Chief Paul Ferreira told a crowd Friday at the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce Focus Luncheon that his office has requested two crime scene evidence technicians for Kona’s detective division, which is currently bereft of any such positions. Police have also requested in the upcoming budget an extra sergeant for Kona, as well as two sergeants each for the North Kohala and South Kohala districts.

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The chief was one of several county department heads on a panel at the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel to inform residents what the county is doing to serve the leeward side of the island.

His opening comments addressed a sentiment in West Hawaii that police presence has long been inequitably focused elsewhere across the island. He said he sympathized with those feelings but statistical prudence dictates police focus on the more chaotic and crime-ridden areas of Puna and Ka‘u — where a majority of new police hires will be stationed.

Challenges continuing to plague the department, Ferreira explained, remain the two Rs — recruitment and retention.

He said he doesn’t believe that changing the current paradigm of police academy training, restricted now to only East Hawaii, would materially alter the department’s ability to entice new officers and keep them happy.

“I don’t know that it would alleviate people joining up,” said Ferreira, adding there’s a “good mix” of cadets from across the island, all of whom know they’re able to return to their home districts to work once sworn in.

“Our biggest challenge comes around any time the economy is good. Recruitment takes a hit,” he said. “People are looking at different jobs — industry, construction. They can make a hell of a lot more money than they’re ever going to make as a police officer, and when something happens they’re not running to the danger, they’re running away from the danger.”

The luncheon was meant to give audience members a chance to ask county leaders direct questions. But a lack of collective time management on the part of county officials blocked the Q and A component.

After each of the seven department heads gave opening statements followed by a speech from Mayor Harry Kim, the clock on the luncheon ran out before Wendy Laros, the chamber’s executive director, could address any of the 25 questions submitted either online or via notecards.

She told chamber members and guests before convening the event that questions would be submitted to the relevant panelists, answered in writing and published in the chamber’s next newsletter, which is accessible on the organization’s website at https://www.kona-kohala.com.

But Laros noted in the afternoon’s concluding comments a chamber priority to see a community police officer assigned specifically to Kailua Village. Ferreira said it was the first he’d heard of the request, but police already do patrol the village.

“I think the ask is for more police presence in Kailua Village, hitting the beat again. And because we’re short staffed, the officers are running call to call,” said Ferreira, noting the Kona community policing unit had as many as 10 vacancies for patrol staff in 2018.

“Community policing is a program, not an individual officer,” he said. “They’re there to problem-solve with the community and with the businesses — how can they best service the public? (They’re there) not so much to be a beatman but more to be a go-between (from) the department to the community.”

Roads

David Yamamoto, director of Public Works, drew perhaps the loudest applause of the afternoon with an announcement he made on the progress of a popular road project in Kona.

“I’m glad to say that we’re going to get started on the archaeology inventory survey for the Ane (Keohokalole Highway) segment between Hina Lani (Street) and Kaiminani (Drive),” he said. “We expect it to begin in a few weeks and it will probably take nine months to complete.”

Assuming all is right with the survey, the department will then move into the environmental assessment and design phases. No timelines beyond that for the immediate survey were provided.

Yamamoto added discussions have commenced between the county and King Kamehameha Schools regarding a land acquisition that would be necessary to extend Nani Kailua Drive.

He also believes road maintenance capacity should expand following recent increases in the fuel tax and general excise tax.

Mass Transit

Despite construction project delays and booming traffic, Hawaii County Mass Transit has long been the slowest show on the road. Brenda Carreira, Mass Transit administrator, acknowledged as much after a glowing introduction by Kim.

“First of all, on behalf of Mass Transit, I apologize. I apologize because I know we lost the public trust,” she said. “We were not reliable. People didn’t know if the bus was showing up and when it did show up, who was going to be driving it.”

The county had only 12 buses to support 33 routes when Carreira accepted the position, with no new buses since 2015. Now, through rentals and donations from other islands, there are 20-21 buses at Hawaii Island’s disposal at any given time.

Carreira said the department has commenced work on a master plan to expand further, but rolling it out won’t be a speedy process.

“With our GET funds and with federal funding, we are going to have at least six new mini buses … but not until the end of the year,” she explained. “It takes about nine months for that to happen.”

More big buses are also on the way, purchases likely to be heavily backed by federal funding, but procurement may take up to 14-24 months, Carreira said.

Sink or swim

Roxcie Waltjen, Department of Parks and Recreation director, dove immediately into the deep end after taking up the microphone.

Parks and Rec announced recently the Kona Community Aquatic Center would be taken out of commission for 7-8 months due to problems with one of its four sand filters. Initially, the department was going to try and run the pool on three filters but was advised against that.

Instead, all four filters will be replaced along with the pump’s piping and mechanical components due to sand infiltration. But news on the pool wasn’t all bad.

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“Right now we are working on the procurement and the specs, and I believe that as we are meeting here today, it is going out,” Waltjen said. “So that has cut like a whole month off.”

With Kona pool usage reduced to a 6-7 month hiatus, the Konawaena pool is now open seven days a week with extended hours.

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