Legislators will hold a public hearing March 28 regarding growing concerns about the state Department of Public Safety under the leadership of Nolan Espinda.

Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chair of the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental & Military Affairs Committee, told Civil Beat on Friday that his committee will hold the hearing after receiving conflicting information from the department over concerns he raised in a letter to the department in February.

Nishihara did not say whether or not he would support Espinda’s reconfirmation. Civil Beat previously reported that Espinda, director of the department, may lack the votes to retain his position.

Senate Democrats are also expected to meet with Espinda on Monday to address some of Nishihara’s concerns.

Public Safety Director Noland Espinda looks on at the 3pm oversight commission hearing.

Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda will need to address lawmakers’ concerns in a public hearing before having a shot at reconfirmation.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Espinda was first appointed as public safety director by Gov. David Ige in 2015.

Ige said in an emailed statement Friday that he still supports Espinda’s appointment, citing improvements the department has made in reducing overtime costs and abuse of sick leave.

Nishihara’s written inquiries to the department in February focused heavily on policies and procedures related to deputy sheriffs that it has yet to adopt.

The department’s response to Nishihara earlier this week said that many of its proposed new policies could take awhile to implement because they need to be reviewed by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union representing deputy sheriffs.

Nishihara disputed that explanation, saying some employees told him that the director signed off on certain policies without union input.

Nishihara’s letter and the department’s response helped to shed light on what lawmakers might view as deficiencies under Espinda’s watch.

Nishihara had concerns about the department’s lack of accreditation, which it was required by law to obtain from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in 2011.

Espinda wrote in a response to Nishihara on Monday that it could take four more years to bring the Sheriff Division’s policies in line with CALEA’s. By then, Hawaii’s next governor would be making a new round of appointments.

Espinda listed 36 policies that he said are being drafted, reviewed or discussed. They include policies on ethics, use of force, firearms, recruitment, vehicular pursuits and performance evaluations, among others.

Nishihara’s letter referred to policies that were submitted by sheriff commanders to the deputy director for law enforcement, Renee Sonobe Hong, but were never implemented. Espinda said in his response that he never received any of those.

The proposed policies covered active shooter situations, bomb threats in courts, weapon and equipment standards and barricade situations, among other topics.

Only one of them, regarding special duty employment, was implemented, according to Nishihara.

The department’s rules say that proposed policies need to be reviewed by a deputy director before being sent to Espinda.

Nishihara voiced concerns over Sonobe Hong’s inaction on the proposed policies in his February letter.

He also questioned her qualifications. She’s a former deputy attorney general but was never a law enforcement officer.

Read Nishihara’s letter and Espinda’s response below.

Sen. Nishihara Letter (Text)

Department of Public Safety’s response to letter (Text)

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