Recruit numbers set to exceed retirements for Honolulu police
The agency has spearheaded creative recruiting efforts, including virtual career fairs and advertising for candidates before movie screenings
By Peter Boylan
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU, Hawaii — The number of recruits working their way through the Honolulu Police Department’s training regimen is on pace to exceed the number of officers retiring this year as the department works to fill 375 vacancies.
The number of recruits working their way through the Honolulu Police Department’s training regimen is on pace to exceed the number of officers retiring this year as the department works to fill 375 vacancies.
There were 2, 244 pending applicants for the job as of Dec. 1, but HPD Chief Arthur “Joe” Logan said that finding candidates capable of passing the background checks, health screening, physical agility standards, polygraph tests and other preemployment hurdles is always a challenge.
HPD has an authorized force of 2,177 uniformed officers and had 1,802 on duty at last report, according to the department’s Human Resources Division. With 86 recruits in training, HPD’s net vacancies sat at 289.
A new batch of recruits started Dec. 5 at the Ke Kula Makai training academy in Waipahu. New cohorts are started every 2-1 /2 months with an average of 15 to 20 recruits per class. By year’s end, the department will have brought on 104 new police officers.
On the other side of the personnel ledger, 54 officers have retired so far this year, but Logan told the Honolulu Police Commission at its Dec. 7 meeting that he won’t know the final number until officers who put in to end their service Dec. 31 are processed.
When asked by Police Commission member Richard Parry about what he was expecting in terms of retirements, Logan replied, “I’m hoping we are under the 104, but I won’t know that until the end of the year.”
In 2021, 94 HPD officers retired compared with 81 in 2020, 83 in 2019, 73 in 2018, 94 in 2017 and 60 in 2016.
Of the 136 officers who left the department this year, 54 retired, 68 resigned, eight were terminated, five were discharged and one officer died.
From 2009 to 2012, HPD averaged more resignations—53—than retirements—49, according to department statistics.
Officers also leave HPD for other police departments in what is known as a lateral transfer—a reality in policing, Logan said. Since November 1998, at least 202 officers have left for other police departments, including the 13 this year as of Dec. 1.
“Having mainland departments coming over here to recruit from HPD, we can’t stop them but it’s not nice, " said Logan, who added that he welcomes qualified police officers from the mainland who want to join the local police force and former HPD officers who apply to come home.
The department’s current staffing issues are comparable to those in jurisdictions such as San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., according to officials with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, and the need to bring more officers in than leave every year is a nationwide struggle for law enforcement agencies.
Shifting regional and national attitudes toward traditional policing and Hawaii’s high cost of living are significant factors that hamper recruiting.
The San Francisco Police Department counted 1, 911 officers among its ranks in 2020 and 1, 645 today, according to union officials. A recent analysis by the city’s Board of Supervisors found that San Francisco needs about 600 more police officers on its force.
In San Jose, police lost 209 officers to retirement, resignation and termination from January 2021 through August 2022, and lose about half of their recruits before graduation.
“Police agencies across the nation face a staffing crisis, and Honolulu PD is not immune from that pain, " said SHOPO Vice President and HPD Sgt. Stephen Keogh in a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “HPD faces the toughest recruitment and retention environment you can imagine. From the high cost of living on Oahu to national anti-police rhetoric to the increase in attacks on police officers, the staffing challenge is daunting and gets worse as time passes.
“SHOPO is fully committed to working with Chief Logan and City leaders on finding tangible solutions like competitive wages, retention bonuses, flexible schedules, and more to retain and attract officers.”
In addition to virtual and in-person career fairs, HPD has gone so far as to advertise for candidates before movie screenings at Consolidated Theatres. The department also hosts “HPDFIT " exercises when would-be applicants can test their physical stamina and agility through tests they would take as recruits that are administered by sworn officers.
In November the department welcomed more than 200 people to a career event in Kaneohe and held a virtual recruitment forum for women in policing that was designed to encourage more women to consider a career in law enforcement.
Honolulu police hope a 5 % across-the-board increase in pay each year through 2024, approved by the City Council in September, will help attract and retain officers. The starting annual pay for a metropolitan police officer is $71, 656, with new recruits beginning their training at the department’s training academy earning $68, 934.
The first 5 % pay raise is retroactive to July 1, with 5 % increases every July 1 through 2024. Under the agreement, officers will receive a one-time, lump-sum bonus in 2024 ranging from $1, 800 to $2, 000.
By fiscal year 2025, the increases are expected to cost taxpayers more than $136 million.
“When you look past our challenges, there’s no better place a young officer who wants to make a meaningful difference can spend their career than at the Honolulu Police Department, " Keogh said. “We have talented and dedicated officers, a vibrant and diverse community that values our work, and the resources of a major department that make our job interesting and exciting.”
THE GREATEST need, as always, is for metropolitan police officers to serve in patrol districts, the lifeblood of any police department’s ability to respond to crime and maintain public safety through a visible deterrence.
As of Dec. 1, HPD had 148 metropolitan vacancies, 86 vacancies at the rank of corporal, 37 for sergeants, 25 for detectives and 20 for lieutenants.
“We are still promoting (officers ) but we are not promoting as fast, " Logan told the Star-Advertiser. “It’s absolutely a delicate balance.”
After completing 6-1 /2 months of training at the Ke Kula Makai academy, recruits must finish an additional 2-1 /2 months of field training followed by another 2-1 /2 months of “fourth watch.”
During the fourth-watch period, recruits are paired with a veteran officer and assigned to a patrol district for further seasoning. The goal of fourth watch is to wean officers from a reliance on senior officers and to get them comfortable performing duties on their own.
Logan said about 80% of the recruits who enter Ke Kula Makai finish the academy, calling the attrition rate “really low.” He credits that in part to the instructor-to-recruit ratio.
In the past, if a recruit struggled with the concept of “arrestable offenses " or whether to employ judo techniques or other tactics to subdue a suspect, they might have had a hard time finding someone at the academy to walk them through those training modules.
“It’s how you walk them through that to bring them up to speed, (because if you don’t) sometimes they leave early, " Logan said. “Our role now is to engage them in the class, early on, with the right mentor to help them get through the class.”
HPD also is trying to restart its cadet program that engages graduating high school seniors and employs them until they turn 21, the legal age for carrying a firearm in Hawaii, and are able to start as police recruits.
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