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Honoulu PD union says staffing shortage reaching ‘catastrophic’ levels

As of March 1, HPD employed 1,740 officers out of 2,177 positions for a vacancy rate of about 20%, union researchers found

Honolulu police officer shortage imperils public safety, union says

“The statistics that we’ve come up with are very alarming and should be disturbing to all stakeholders, not just the police department, not just the union should be alarming to the communities, it should be alarming to the mayor, it should be alarming to the city council.”

Honolulu Police Department via Facebook

By Peter Boylan
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HONOLULU — The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers is urging the Honolulu Police Department and county leadership to address a shortage of 437 officers that leaves areas of Oahu with “limited to no coverage” several days a week.

With one out of every five police officer positions left unfilled, 911 response times are delayed and detectives are forced to manage heavy case loads, according to the police union.

The difficulty recruiting and retaining police officers is a nationwide problem that law enforcement agencies and local governments are struggling to address. Any kind of public service at the county level is difficult as there are 2,500 vacancies city-wide, including HPD.

As of March 1, HPD employed 1,740 officers out of 2,177 positions for a vacancy rate of about 20%. HPD employs 408 civilians and has 192 vacancies out of 600 authorized position.

In 2016, HPD was short 175 positions, a number that grew every year save for 2019 and 2021 until it reached 437 vacancies last year, a 250% increase. HPD had 175 open slots for uniformed officers in 2016; 190 in 2017; 251 in 2018; 249 in 2019; 323 in 2020; 291 in 2021; and 362 in 2022.

Last year, 68 officers and 10 civilian employees retired. Ten officers left for other law enforcement agencies and 210 officers are eligible for retirement as of Feb. 1.

Sixty-eight uniformed officers and 10 civilian workers retired last year.

A metropolitan police recruit earns $72,384 per year and up to $80,288 including a standard of conduct differential. New officers start at $75,240 per year and can earn up to $83,144 if the differential is acquired.

Additional pay may include night differential, overtime at 1.5 times the base hourly rate, meal allowance for overtime work, subsidized vehicle allowance, and hazard pay.

At the Honolulu Police Commission’s March 20 meeting, SHOPO representatives presented two video presentations lasting about 10 minutes highlighting a “staffing crisis that continues to grow worse every month.”

On March 8, 2022, SHOPO sent a letter to the Honolulu City Council during the department’s annual budget appropriation discussions noting that “HPD is in the depths of a dangerous under-staffing crisis. It’s real, it’s negatively impacting the Department’s ability to fill police patrol beats on a daily basis, depriving our residents, businesses and tourists of the full police protection they are promised and deserve.”

The letter asked that staffing and recruitment be prioritized and that the Council “provide clear policy direction,” noting that about 30% of the recruits at HPD’s Ke Kula Makai Police Academy don’t complete their training and join the department.

SHOPO’s presentation to police commissioners urged police leadership and city leaders to be “realistic and honest” about the staffing problem.

Honolulu Police Chief Arthur “Joe” Logan told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the department is using several strategies to address the shortage, including “increasing the size of our recruitment unit and working with high schools and universities and the military’s SkillBridge program.”

“We will also be offering financial incentives for the first time to new recruits and lateral officers. We’re hoping that this combination will attract more applicants, including individuals who’ve relocated to other places but want to return to Hawaii . If you’re going to be a police officer, the best place to be is in Honolulu, " said Logan.

The department cannot hire it’s way out of the staffing crisis, the union asserts, because the department loses more officer each year than it hires.

The academy has averaged an 80% vacancy rate over the past two years. The department is budgeted to handle 360 recruits a year, but since 2022 the department has hired 145 officers that completed the academy.

In 2022 and 2023 a total of 176 officers either retired, resigned, were terminated or passed away, according to SHOPO’s presentation. In that same time 61 officers left the academy before completing the training.

Between 2020 and 2023, 589 officers separated from the department and HPD appointed 274 recruits.

Over the past four years, HPD lost an average of 147 officers a year and coupled with the 30% washout rate at the academy, HPD has to hire 210 recruits a year to break even, SHOPO maintains.

“There is no way around it. The current numbers and trends are catastrophic. They call for bold, decisive action, " according to SHOPO, which lauded Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s announcement that recruits would receive a $25,000 signing bonus.

Union officials called for similar financial incentives to address retention to stem the loss of experienced officers.

“The statistics that we’ve come up with are very alarming and should be disturbing to all stakeholders, not just the police department, not just the should be alarming to the communities, it should be alarming to the mayor, it should be alarming to the city council.”

Nicholas Schlapak, a HPD corporal and 14-year veteran of the department who serves as SHOPO’s Honolulu Chapter, told commissioners March 20, “We are not here to do anything else other than focus on this problem so that all of us who live here...have a better way of life.”

The union showed commissioners a staffing snapshot from a week in March.

One featured Patrol District 2, which covers central Oahu and is bounded by Kipapa Gulch and Waiahole Stream on the south, the Waianae mountains on the west, the Koolau mountains on the east, and the shoreline from Kaena Point through Sunset Beach on the north. During five days of day shifts the union looked at, patrol beats were staffed at 77% with three beats being without regular police coverage each day. During the other two days the district was staffed at 85%, with two beats being without an assigned patrol officer during those days.

Officers assigned to other beats are tasked with covering the empty areas, delaying response times to the 2,100 911 calls HPD handles per day, officer support, and less proactive and community policing.

“If we’re wrong, let’s have a discussion...the data that we used is difficult to get. The reason why is because the department is not very transparent. I will not go into detail about what resources we used, " said Schlapak, speaking to commissioners after the video presentations. “If the department would like to have that conversation behind closed doors, I am more than willing to talk. I didn’t do anything dirty and I didn’t do anything illegal but some of the information that we did use is confidential within the department. If that makes sense, I’m happy to talk about it. And by confidential I mean not top secret...they are privy to eyes that are...employees.”

Requests from SHOPO to HPD’s human resources department for help gathering data did not spur a response, union officials said.

Commission vice chair Kenneth Silva, a former chief of the Honolulu Fire Department, said he and chair Doug Chin had a chance to meet with SHOPO before the March 20 presentation. What they heard was “eye opening " Silva said during the meeting.

“Information is a good thing, it’s a powerful thing, " said Silva. “I can’t help but feel the frustration but I don’t only hear it from SHOPO’s side I hear it from the administration’s side, too—but then I also lived that frustration because...I live in our communities. In a perfect world we’d like to see fully staffed beats.”


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