LIHUE, Kauai — As a Las Vegas Police Department captain, Todd Raybuck was flying back to that city on Oct. 1, 2017, when his flight was diverted to Phoenix because, the pilot told passengers, there was an active shooting incident at the Las Vegas airport.

Hours later, Raybuck finally made it back to the city, where he was assigned to be one of the top commanders at the scene of the horrific mass shooting not at the airport but from the 32nd floor of the MGM Mandalay Bay hotel and casino. Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 500 injured at a concert venue below.

Over the next several days, Raybuck watched hundreds of supplementary law enforcement personnel pour into Las Vegas to help in the massive investigation. The FBI, alone, Raybuck said one day recently, dispatched 300 agents.

He is acutely aware that his new job — chief of the Kauai Police Department — might be in an entirely different world from the Las Vegas law enforcement to which he grew accustomed. On Kauai, Raybuck’s department is authorized to have 168 officers, though attrition and difficulty recruiting new cops — an epidemic problem across Hawaii — means that, as an actual matter, he is down 22 officers from the authorized strength.

Todd Raybuck took over as chief of the Kauai Police Department in April after both he and his wife retired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Allan Parachini/Civil Beat

And, of course, any police emergency on Kauai will occur without any prospect of significant back-up resources. There is no next city or county over that can easily send help. As it is, an officer who needs assistance on Kauai lives with the reality that the next closest officer to come to his or her aid may be 25 minutes or more away.

“It hurts a lot of things,” Raybuck says of the staffing shortage. “That’s one of the challenges that I have to figure out. Not only are we literally isolated on this island, our resources are also limited. One of the things I’ll be looking at over the next couple months is what are our manpower needs and where are our resources assigned.”

He’s open to public input on the topic.

“Community involvement in the police department is one of the most important things that law enforcement has to embrace today,” Raybuck says.

He’s been doing a concentrated series of ride-alongs with his officers to get to know directly the conditions under which they work. It’s not like Las Vegas.

“I go out every day and represent the men and women on this police department who may be in a patrol car at three o’clock in the morning and a very dark place, as I was two weekends ago,” Raybuck says. “You can’t see anything. Your radios don’t work. Your telephone doesn’t work and you’re just out there doing the best you can for the people.”

All of that said, though, it’s clear Raybuck relishes his new job.

The chief, who took over the department in late April, retired in February from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, where he served for nearly 27 years and rose to the rank of captain commanding one of the department’s nine patrol divisions.

His wife, Kelly, was on the Las Vegas department for 22 years before she, too, retired. The couple has two high school-aged sons, Kyle and Connor.

Raybuck actually started his law enforcement career on Oahu, where he was stationed at what was then called Wheeler Air Force Base (now Schofield Barracks/Wheeler Army Airfield) from 1987 to 1990.

In Las Vegas, Raybuck’s division included about 80 square miles and 250,000 residents—almost four times the population of Kauai.

In the KPD, Raybuck says, “I saw an organization that in recent years has been progressive and innovative and was moving in the direction of 21st century policing.

“The people in (the department) are very dedicated and passionate about serving this community,” he says. “It’s an organization that’s looking to get better. I wanted to join an organization on the path of moving forward in policing today … modern policing.”

Kauai Police Dept signage on police vehicle.
On Kauai, police officers must live with the knowledge that their nearest backup might be 25 minutes or more away. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

It was significant to Raybuck that KPD has embraced use of body cameras, which all officers now wear. Las Vegas, he said, was a pioneer in the field. The issue was critical to Raybuck, he said, because it signifies a commitment to transparency.

“It used to be that the most important tool on your body was your firearm,” he says. “Because the gun is going to keep you alive. The body-worn camera today, I think, is probably the most important tool. You can go your whole career without ever having to use your firearm. I did, fortunately.

“The gun will save your life, but the body-worn camera can save your career. Law enforcement as a whole owns the fallout of not being able to be trusted in some regard, as to what we say and what we do. The body-worn camera doesn’t lie, though it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. But it’s a tool that can help paint a picture of what occurred and what didn’t.”

Raybuck was impressed that Kauai’s police commission has the power to hire and fire a chief on its own, without approval from the mayor or County Council. He said he was warned by commission members about the costs of food and housing.

“They wanted to make sure I knew what I’m getting into with this job,” he says.

“Not only was Todd the best qualified candidate, he was also the best fit for our Kauai community,” Police Commission Chair Mary Kay Hertog — herself a former military police officer — said in a statement announcing Raybuck’s hiring.

Raybuck was also told that he would be earning less than several members of his new department through the anomalous system of “salary inversion.” It affects the Kauai fire and police departments and many other county agencies, as top deputies to the chief remain qualified to receive overtime because they don’t lose their union membership when promoted into senior positions.

“I was aware when I came here that my salary would be lower than my executive staff,” Raybuck says.

As chief, he gets a base salary of $127,313 per year. But with typical overtime, the assistant chief of police earns $199,980 and some sergeants get as much as $191,764, according to a recent report of the Kauai County Salary Commission. Even some patrol officers earn more than the chief, with overtime, according to the commission.

“Salary inversion” has been the target of vocal criticism from the County Council.

“The challenge that I have moving forward is fixing the inversion,” Raybuck says. “It isn’t about me getting more pay.”

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