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Editor’s Note: Civil Beat‘s recent investigative series, In The Name Of The Law caught the attention of Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry. He invited a reporter to visit him on the island and discuss the realities of running a small police department where a strong union and a tight-knit community complicate how a chief can deal with misconduct.
LIHUE, KAUAI — Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry wants a clean department.
But like the other police chiefs in the state he’s bound by a political and legal system that often allows officer misconduct to go unchecked and remain hidden from public view.
State law shields county police officers who are suspended for misconduct from having their names released, even if they committed a crime. Other details about their misdeeds, including date, time and location, are also guarded. This is a protection afforded to no other public employees in the state.
Perry was hired in 2007 after nearly 30 years in the Honolulu Police Department. He had also worked as an investigator for the state attorney general.
Taped to his office door in Lihue is a sign that reads “Integrity is non-negotiable.” On it are pictures of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
It’s a daily reminder of what he’s trying to accomplish within his department.
“KPD had some major issues when I first came here,” Perry said, referring to lapses in technology, training and oversight. “When I first came here there were allegations made against our officers that weren’t being investigated.”
One of Perry’s first acts as chief was to create an internal affairs division to police his department. It would be the first time KPD would have a unit specifically dedicated to ferreting out bad cops.
Perry didn’t want people like Channing Tada, Wesley Perreira and Lawrence Stem in his department. Those officers were forced to resign in 2008 after skipping out on federal police training on Maui and lying about it. All three pleaded guilty to felony theft charges for the incident as well as misdemeanor counts for tampering with a government record.
Instead, Perry wants officers like Whitman McCallum and George Laccone, who he praised at a recent Kauai Police Commission meeting for seizing 79 grams of methamphetamine, $5,000 and weapons during a domestic violence call.
Reinforcing good behavior, he said, is key to limiting the metastasization of the bad.
“The bottom line is holding people accountable,” Perry said. “I’m being paid through taxes and I have a duty and responsibility to hold my officers accountable.”
Terminations for misconduct are rare at KPD. So are the suspensions.
Civil Beat obtained 15 years of annual misconduct reports KPD is required to submit to the Legislature. From 1998 to 2012, there were about 40 incidents of misconduct. Only three KPD employees were terminated, the rest received suspensions ranging from one day off without pay to 20.
Wrongdoing ranged from failing to investigate complaints and turn in reports on time to sexual harassment, use of force and criminal behavior. The summaries of the incidents, however, are only a single sentence long, leaving the reader guessing as to what actually transpired.
The Kauai County Police Department is the state’s smallest.
The numbers would indicate that KPD has a low rate of misconduct in the ranks when compared to other departments. For instance, a prior Civil Beat analysis found that HPD suspends or fires an officer for misconduct once every nine days on average. At KPD the rate is about once every four and half months. HPD has about 2,000 officers whereas KPD has around 150.
But the figures are skewed, Perry said, mainly due to a lack of diligence on KPD’s part in tracking and investigating misconduct over the years. From 2003 to 2007, KPD didn’t report a single incident of misconduct to the Legislature, but Perry said that doesn’t mean there weren’t cases. There were.
The problem was, he said, is that the statute of limitations for administrative investigations had passed, meaning some officers who should have been disciplined weren’t.
When Perry took over, the number of officers disciplined for misconduct shot up. In 2008, there were six incidents of disciplinary action listed in KPD’s legislative reports. It was the first time in five years that KPD had reported an officer being disciplined for misconduct.
In 2009, KPD disciplined six officers for seven incidents. The following year, 2010, there were 10 disciplinary actions listed in the legislative summaries. In 2011, that number dipped to four and in 2012 Perry reported that not a single officer was suspended or terminated for misconduct.
That might not be the case next year, Perry said, as there are some current investigations pending. He added that releasing information about bad cops is important, and that he believes the media can play a role in that.
“If we keep hiding what we’re doing here we’re not going to get anything done,” Perry said. “Even the appearance that we’re hiding things is not good.”
All three KPD terminations occurred under Perry’s watch. One officer was fired for having “inappropriate contact” with a colleague. Another “engaged in unlawful conduct while off duty.” The third firing involved a civilian employee who had “failed to immediately dispatch proper units and transmitted inappropriate langues over the police radio.”
Tada, Perreira and Stem were also slated to lose their jobs, but Perry let them resign in lieu of being terminated so they could keep their post-employment benefits.
This decision struck at the heart of the disciplinary process, he said, in that it required him to weigh whether the punishment fit the crime. He wanted the officers off the force, but he also didn’t want their families to suffer financial hardship as a result of a lapse in judgement.
“We’re very sensitive to the families here,” Perry said, “especially in this culture where we’re all related and it’s our ohana.”
Not all bad cops are terminated. This is the case throughout the islands due in large part to the police union contract that includes a multi-tiered grievance process for disciplined officers.
The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) represents more than 2,800 employees, and is considered one of the more influential public sector unions in the state.
At HPD, for example, 22 officers were discharge notices between 2000 and 2012. Civil Beat found that eight of those officers got their jobs back and two were allowed to resign. This included individuals who had pleaded guilty to crimes, committing acts of domestic violence and lied to investigators.
KPD has had similar run ins with the SHOPO contract and the independent arbitrators who sometimes give officers their jobs back.
A Kauai Police Department truck in Lihue.
Perry described an incident in which a KPD sergeant had been accused of committing an offense involving a prostitute. There were also unrelated allegations that the man had a history of pulling women over and telling them he wouldn’t give them a ticket if they kissed him. He was known as the “kissing bandit.”
Perry believed he had enough ammunition to fire the officer, who ended up being placed on paid leave while the administrative investigation and grievance process played out.
“I felt good about the termination,” Perry said. “I felt it was the right thing to do to protect the public as well as the integrity of the department.”
Ultimately an arbitrator decided Perry’s punishment was too severe. Instead, the officer was suspended and forced to undergo a psychological evaluation. He was allowed back on the streets.
“This is not unusual for me,” Perry said. “All the other chiefs have to deal with it too. Officers we know should not be here are coming back.”
This scenario is different from others Perry has encountered where he believes an officer’s career can be salvaged after a mistake. In those cases, he works with the union on a “last chance agreement,” which allows an officer to keep their job as long as they don’t slip up again.
“When we do discipline our officers we do not expect to see them become repeat offenders,” Perry said. “If they do repeat, shame on them and shame on us.”
KPD is still trying to rebuild its reputation, Perry said. The department has been embroiled in near constant political strife for the past decade, with police chiefs coming and going.
Perry is not immune from the infighting. He’s currently at the center of a power struggle between Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and the county police commission.
Carvalho had suspended Perry for seven days in February 2012 for issues related to how the chief handled an employee investigation.
The police commission, which hires and fires the chief, said the mayor didn’t have that authority and a lawsuit ensued with a judge eventually ruling that the mayor did have the authority to suspend Perry. The commission has since appealed that ruling.
But when Kauai Police Commission Chair James O’Connor sets the politics aside he sees a department heading in the right direction, especially when it comes to handling misconduct.
O’Connor hasn’t been with the police commission long, and before being appointed didn’t pay too much attention to KPD, the politics around it or the department’s perception in the community. But over the past couple years, he said he’s seen a decrease in the number of complaints coming to the commission. It’s to the point that the commission is now considering reducing how much money it has budgeted for investigations.
Kauai Police Commission Chair James O’Connor, right, speaks during a commission meeting.
“I don’t see an undertone of police misconduct out there in the public right now, and we have had relatively few complaints compared to previous years,” O’Connor said. “There’s no doubt that among police commissioners that the chief is doing a good job and has implemented a lot of things that are apparently working.”
KPD wants to get accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), which helps departments set public safety performance standards that are considered best practice. KPD is the only non-accredited county police department on the island. Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii counties are all CALEA accredited.
Hawaii, however, is still the only state without a statewide police standards and training board.
Perry admits his department still falls behind others in the state, which in part can be attributed to its small size. KPD is the smallest of the four county police departments, with a budget of $26 million.
But he believes that with continued training and an attitude that reinforces his belief of holding his officers accountable KPD can have a sterling reputation in the minds of his community.
“I believe we have turned this department around,” Perry said. “Whether the community believes that is a different story.”