The public got a glimpse Friday into how the next chief of the Maui Police Department would deal with issues of race, transparency, homelessness and overtime use.
In a more than five-hour long hearing on Friday, the five finalists for the chief’s job tried to distinguish themselves during an interview with the Maui Police Commission at the University of Hawaii’s Maui College. The hearing marked the first time that police chief candidates were interviewed in public.
The chief will lead a department of about 416 employees, including about 312 sworn officers.
Lawrence Hudson, a retired assistant chief, and John Pelletier, a Las Vegas police captain, positioned themselves as outsiders to the department who would bring new ideas and changes to the department – something public testifiers on Thursday called for.
MPD Assistant Chief John Jakubczak wants to improve on successful programs and proposed several new initiatives in the areas of homelessness and cultural education.
Meanwhile MPD Assistant Chief Victor Ramos as well as police captain Everett Ferreira seemed unwilling to change much about department operations and positioned themselves as candidates whom the community is already familiar with.
All five candidates were asked the same 15 questions which covered each candidate’s background, budget issues, community policing, police unions, professionalism and stamping out favoritism.
There’s been much attention in recent years on race and policing following high-profile police killings of civilians on the mainland and here in Hawaii.
While not addressing killings directly, Hudson said Hawaii can’t shy away from dealing with racism in the state.
“We cannot say Hawaii is without racism. That would be a lie. That is a fallacy,” Hudson said. “We joke about it way better than anybody else does. Do we joke about it because nobody is in the (racial) majority? Is that why we’re tolerant of it?”
Commission chairman Frank De Rego asked the candidates how they would address ethnic and cultural issues given Hawaii’s unique history as a kingdom that was overthrown by the U.S.
Pelletier said that event is still a painful scar for people in Hawaii.
During questioning on Friday, Pelletier, whose entire career has been spent on the mainland, often quoted from sections of the state constitution that grant Hawaiians traditional and customary rights and often cited King Kamehameha’s Law of the Splintered Paddle, a loose English translation of a law that granted people protection while lying down in public.
Ramos, who is Hawaiian and Filipino, said he is already known in the community and would have an easier time relating to residents as police chief. Ferreira also said being able to understand the community is an important part of being the police chief.
“It’s also understanding the culture of the officers working for you and how to deal with each individual,” Ferreira said.
Jakubczak proposed classes on Hawaiian culture and history for new recruits to the department.
Pelletier pushed for a change in how MPD approaches homelessness. If he becomes police chief, he said he’d create a task force of advocates and social service providers to develop strategies to deal with homelessness, and also work with judges and prosecutors to better deal with low-level crime.
“Homelessness is not a crime,” he said. “It’s a public health crisis, a socioeconomic failure by society.”
Jakubczak doesn’t think police should have much involvement in dealing with homeless individuals, and said that is better left to service providers. He also floated the idea of working with the county or a private entity to set up an encampment with those providers where people experiencing homelessness can go for temporary housing and be connected with providers.
Those responses were in contrast to those from Ramos and Ferreira, who defended a homeless sweep of Amala Place in Kahului that has been criticized by homeless advocates. As they see it, nothing needs to change with Maui’s homeless programs and the police and county response to the issue.
“I would continue to do what’s being done right now to work with other county agencies,” Ramos said. “There’s not much we can do when it comes to the economical situation of people involved. The only thing we can do is offer them assistance by working with other agencies.”
Ramos asked for patience from the public to keep working on the issue.
Hudson said that the department needs to do a better job of working with community groups that do homeless outreach, like churches and other agencies.
De Rego said that more than 12% of the MPD’s $63 million annual budget is taken up by overtime costs. He asked the candidates how they would deal with that.
For more than a year now, MPD districts have run on two shifts, meaning officers work 12 hours a day. Ramos and Ferreira said that issue won’t be resolved until more personnel are hired to fully staff each shift.
Jakubczak reiterated that point, but also said that he would scrutinize department transfers where a patrol officer is moved into a different position. He said patrol positions are too often left vacant when those transfers occur, leading to staffing shortages.
Hudson would take a different approach entirely, calling for an independent audit of overtime at the police department.
He also said he doesn’t plan to hire a deputy chief from inside the department, though he said he already has an unnamed female police commander from an “outside district” in mind for the position.
Responding to a question about factions in the department, Hudson said that all his friends from MPD have either died or retired. He said he’ll come in with fresh eyes and wouldn’t tolerate cliques anymore.
Asked why he is coming out of retirement to apply for the position of police chief, Hudson said he wants to improve transparency at MPD.
“When I left my department, I though I left it in very good hands … as time goes by, it seems that’s not truly the case,” Hudson said. “There seems to be something amiss. And I enjoy being retired – there’s no lie about that – I put back in to make sure if there’s a problem, then I’d like to find it and weed it out.”
Hudson promised either monthly or weekly meetings with local media to discuss department issues.
Pelletier struck a similar tone of wanting to bring about change. He said he finds the lack of women in leadership positions in the department “incredibly disturbing” and wants to put a greater emphasis on hiring and promoting more women.
Pelletier similarly would seek a deputy police chief from outside the department, but wouldn’t discount applicants already in the department.
Asked about department cliques, he said he wants to come in and “reboot the entire department.” He wants each bureau to perform an honest assessment of its staff to see what is working well and what isn’t, and he also advocated for changing MPD’s use of force policy to require officers to intervene if they see another officer using unnecessary force.
“I know how to lead, I know how to inspire. I’ve been there, I’ve done it,” Pelletier said.
Pelletier was an incident commander during the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting on the Las Vegas Strip that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others. He credits crisis preparations and planning the Metropolitan Police Department had in place that prevented the disaster from being even worse.
De Rego also asked each candidate if a background check of their employment records would reveal criminal activity, employee grievances and disciplinary action.
Pelletier said he has never been disciplined. Jakubczak said he was disciplined twice early in his career. Once for getting into an automobile collision while responding to a call and another time for helping an officer off-duty.
Hudson said he was suspended in 1985 for not following proper reporting procedures during a DUI incident.
And Ferreira said that “as a young officer, I had a few investigations.” However, he did not provide details on those incidents.
Ramos also faced disciplinary action for an incident where he “miscalculated funds” that he said he was exonerated for.
But he also responded to some critics who testified to the police commission on Thursday. A Wailuku police detective said that Ramos has retaliated against him for raising concerns over his handling of several cases. Other officers also testified that Ramos has a history of retaliation.
“The chief has to have a lot of integrity, and have a history of making the right decisions. And not be involved in harassment or placed in situations like that,” Ramos said. “There’s not going to be any issues with my history. You’ve heard from a few people that disagreed with my management style. But my intent always, when it comes to addressing and holding people accountable is to make the officer better.”
The police commission is expected to choose the next police chief during a public hearing Tuesday morning.
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