Embattled Public Safety director confirmed by Senate for another 4 years

  • The state Senate reconfirmed Nolan Espinda to lead as director of the Public Safety Department for another four years. (Photo courtesy PSD)
  • The state Senate reconfirmed Nolan Espinda to lead as director of the Public Safety Department for another four years. (Photo courtesy PSD)

KAILUA-KONA —The state Senate voted today to confirm Department of Public Safety director Nolan Espinda for another four years. The 17-8 vote came after a Senate committee’s advisement to reject the director’s nomination.

Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs voted against recommending Espinda for reconfirmation. During the committee’s hearings, various concerns about the department were raised, including a riot at the Maui jail, recent fatal shootings of an Oahu jail inmate and a homeless man at the state capitol, as well as more than a dozen mistaken releases from the Hawaii County jail.

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During the confirmation hearing in Honolulu, two of Hawaii Island’s senators — Lorraine Inouye (D-North Hawaii) and Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u) — voted to keep Espinda in his role. Kanuha voted aye with reservations.

A Hawaii News Now video stream of the Senate hearing captured senators’ comments.

Sen. Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) was one of the eight dissenting votes against Espinda. The senator said the director of public safety is not an easy job and believes Espinda is a dedicated public servant.

“There are clearly systemic problems and have been for years,” Kahele stated on the Senate floor.

Were it not for the recent “serious breaches,” Kahele admitted he’d be voting yes to confirm Espinda.

“As an elected official, I simply cannot ignore that there have been two fatal shootings, a riot and 20 inadvertent releases since September 2015 on Hawaii Island,” he said. “There needs to be accountability, and that accountability needs to start at the top.”

Inouye gave a confident yes vote for Espinda.

“We have also failed tremendously in providing resources to the state-run facilities,” she said.

Inouye said PSD has requested funding for years.

“Nolan Espinda is blamed for some of the deficients [sic] that are down-right wrong,” the senator said. “He has been slighted in newspapers, social media, in emails and phone calls.”

Espinda, in Inouye’s mind, is a reformer and “folks who think otherwise don’t like it.”

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“I look at him as one when the going gets tough, the tough gets going,” Inouye said. “There has been no director in the history of Public Safety that has stayed more than seven to 10 years. It’s a tough job.”

Espinda will continue in his role as director for another four years.

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