Some top Hawaii sheriff’s officials, including the State Sheriff, did not get basic law enforcement training until 2016, even though they were hired more than two decades ago.

State Sheriff Al Cummings, First Deputy Sheriff Reid Ogata and Darryl Oku, a retired deputy sheriff who used to be in charge of the governor’s security detail, were among more than a dozen sheriff’s deputies who had to go back to basic training in 2016 because they never received it when they were hired.

Hawaii News Now originally reported that top personnel never received proper training in April 2016, but Department of Public Safety officials refused to release the names of the employees despite repeated requests by Civil Beat and others. Civil Beat filed an appeal with the state Office of Information Practices and DPS finally agreed to release the information.

Cummings and the other deputies declined to be interviewed for this story.

DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in an email that the employees have had extensive in-service and refresher training over their decades of employment.

“They are fully qualified for their positions,” she said.

Sheriff Vehicle at the Capitol.

The deputy sheriffs’ names were withheld for years by the public safety department.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The recently released records show that Cummings, Ogata and Oku took their basic peace officer training courses in 2016. Cummings took the basic course twice that year for a total of 312 hours, while Ogata took it once for 160 hours and Oku took it twice for 336 hours.

Many basic training programs in other jurisdictions far exceed those hours. For example, in California, basic training for peace officers includes a minimum of 664 hours, but the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training says most certified academies exceed the minimum by 200 hours or more.

Cummings was hired in 1993, Ogata in 1989 and Oku, 1987.

Each sheriff had more than 700 hours of training, including in firearms and lifesaving skills, the records show. Oku had accrued the most hours, at 781 hours or roughly 32.5 days. Oku retired in 2017, which means that he spent just over a month in training in his 30-year career. Cummings had accrued just over 770 hours, and Ogata, about 714.

But these three sheriffs were not trained in all the same things. Cummings appeared to have more training in administrative and supervisory skills than Ogata, who appears to have acquired more investigative training, and Oku, who attended several incident response trainings.

The Hawaii News Now story from 2016 also said that the lack of basic training had led to some cases getting “fouled up,” because of the sheriffs’ ignorance about state laws, procedures and rules of evidence.

Shawn Tsuha, formerly a deputy director for law enforcement, told then-Hawaii News Now reporter Keoki Kerr that some state employees, including Capitol security guards, were grandfathered in as deputy sheriffs.

Former state Sen. Will Espero, who has pushed for a law enforcement standards board since 2014, says there needs to be a better explanation for the sheriffs’ lag in training.

The fact that there’s more than a 20-year gap between the sheriffs’ hiring date and their basic training goes to show there is no monitoring system put in place to make sure training is taking place, he said.

Senator Will Espero during a Hawaii Medical Marijuana Dispensary Task Force meeting at the Hawaii State Capitol on September 9, 2014.

Former State Sen. Will Espero says law enforcement officers make “life and death decisions” and the state has to make sure they are properly trained.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

“We the state need to implement those standards and rules and make certain that it’s being carried out in a timely fashion because law enforcement officers are making life and death decisions,” Espero said. “And we need to know that they are properly trained.”

There have been too many incidents to continue saying law enforcement training is not an issue, he said.

As an example, he pointed to the shooting in February where a deputy sheriff shot a homeless man in the back at the State Capitol. That incident is being investigated by Honolulu police as a second-degree murder case.

That’s an example where training in weapons and dealing with special populations could have changed the outcome, Espero said.

Training is important and paramount not only for the deputy sheriff’s safety but for the public’s safety,” he said.

Espero also pointed out that the Law Enforcement Standards Board, which was created by the Legislature in 2018, could help address this very issue. However, that board is currently on hold. Last month, the board approved a resolution to ask legislators for more money and time after blowing its July deadline to come up with uniform standards for law enforcement in Hawaii.

A Three-Year Fight For Information

After hearing Hawaii News Now’s original report, then-Civil Beat media columnist and University of Hawaii journalism professor Brett Oppegaard filed a public records request in 2016 for the names of the top sheriffs’ officials Kerr had referred to.

But the public safety department denied Oppegaard’s request, saying these deputies are “working in an undercover capacity” and that releasing the names would be a “frustration of a legitimate government function.”

The Civil Beat Law Center for Public Interest intervened on Civil Beat and Oppegaard’s behalf, arguing that the public safety department was being more secretive than the U.S. Secret Service.

The state’s Office of Information Practices issued an opinion in the public safety department’s favor, saying it did not have to release the names, but the Law Center filed an appeal, which prompted the public safety department to release the names.

“This is just basic information about who these people are that work for our government,” Black of the Law Center said recently. “That’s it. This is just the simplest of the employment information that the public should have access to.”

The Civil Beat Law Center is an independent organization created with funding from Pierre Omidyar, who is also CEO and publisher of Civil Beat. Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler sits on its board of directors.

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