Past performance evaluations for Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck show that soon after he was hired in 2019 he was considered “well on his way to stardom.” But by late last year he had begun to raise concerns for some police commissioners.

In March, an investigation by the Kauai County Police Commission found Raybuck created a hostile work environment and violated county discrimination policies when he mocked Asian Americans by bowing his head, squinting his eyes and fabricating a Japanese accent during a conversation with officers. 

Kauai County officials released the prior evaluations to Civil Beat this week under a public records request.

Any disciplinary action that the commission may have taken against the chief has still not been disclosed.

Raybuck declined to comment for this story.

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Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck addressed hundreds of Kauai residents gathered at Hanalei Pier for a peaceful demonstration and paddle out in memory of George Floyd in June 2020. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2020

In early performance evaluations, police commissioners commended Raybuck for generating a “newfound sense of respect for KPD” among Kauai residents, noting that complaints from the public and from within the police department noticeably declined under his leadership.

One commissioner wrote that Raybuck is “well on his way to stardom.”

But the most recent review of Raybuck’s performance reveals that commissioners have since identified several areas of concern. County officials, however, redacted most of these presumably negative comments in a copy provided to Civil Beat.

Despite the redactions, the review of Raybuck’s performance from April to December 2020 marked the first time that the commission found that the chief’s overall performance needed improvement.

Areas of concern raised by commissioners that were not blacked out from the semiannual review question whether the chief had made efforts to build relationships with his officers and staff, as he has with other county department heads and members of the public.

The evaluation called on Raybuck to improve his communication with senior commanders. It also faulted him for the department’s “unsettled” command structure.

Two of the six commissioners determined that the police chief did not meet expectations for the review period — a first for Raybuck.

Still, the review continued to give Raybuck high marks for introducing an employee wellness mobile app, boosting community engagement, strengthening the patrol division and hiring new officers to fill longstanding vacancies — a chronic problem for the department.

Despite a focus on responding to the coronavirus, commissioners noted that Raybuck still managed to make strides toward achieving some of his pre-pandemic goals. Other objectives, understandably, were put on hold, including a planned organizational restructuring effort, commissioners said.

Just three months later, Raybuck found his shining public image tarnished when the results of a police commission investigation that found he had mocked Asians in November 2019 and July 2020 made headlines in The Garden Island newspaper.

The investigation was triggered by a complaint filed last September by one of Raybuck’s officers. The officer had secretly taped the chief mocking people of Asian descent and submitted those audio recordings to the police commission as evidence.

Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck apologized last month after a discrimination investigation found he created a hostile work environment and violated county policies for mocking Asians in Nov. 2019 and July 2020. Allan Parachini/Civil Beat

In one incident, Raybuck described the hair style of one Asian American as something out of a “Kung Fu movie,” according to documents obtained by The Garden Island newspaper.

The investigation by the police commission found that Raybuck violated county discrimination policies and created a hostile work environment. But it did not substantiate the allegations made by the complainant that the chief had exhibited favoritism or passed an officer over for a promotion as a form of retaliation.

Police Commission Chairwoman Catherine Adams wrote in a Feb. 26 letter that Raybuck’s actions are cause for “appropriate corrective action,” but county officials contend any disciplinary measures decided on by the commission are confidential.

Raybuck said in a YouTube video last month that he was “deeply sorry for the hurt my words have caused.”

He said he never intended to discriminate against or humiliate others.

“In hindsight I recognize that, regardless of my intent, my words have caused people pain,” Raybuck said in the video posted to his Facebook page.

“I recognize now that my comments were insensitive and improper as the chief of police,” he added. “I respect the findings of the investigation and I will accept the police commission’s decision on my discipline.”

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers called on Raybuck to resign immediately. But local leadership, including Mayor Derek Kawakami, voiced support for the chief, citing his good record of performance.

Early job reviews praise Raybuck for his avid use of social media to promote the police department and its officers, alert residents to public safety threats and offer people who might not approach the chief through official channels a more casual and comfortable way to voice their feedback about policing issues.

Before the start of a planned protest, the chief helped foster understanding and diffuse tensions by encouraging county officials to engage with activists opposed to the construction of a Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. He accompanied young student participants in a walk-to-school program and threw the first pitch at a Lihue baseball tournament.

Commissioners said Raybuck restored professionalism to the job of Kauai’s top cop.

The police commission’s rebuke of Raybuck comes amid a rise in reports of violence against Asian Americans in many U.S. cities. Complaints of growing anti-Asian sentiment and an uptick in documented hate crimes is mobilizing the Asian American community to speak out and call for change.

Asians make up roughly 35% of the Kauai Police Department, and 44% of Asians employed by the department identify as Japanese, according to data provided to Civil Beat by county officials this week.  

The county refused to break the information out by rank or position, citing privacy concerns.

Just over 30% of Kauai residents are Asian, so the share of KPD police officers and civilian staff members that identify as Asian is slightly higher than the general population.

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