The Honolulu Police Department’s failure to deploy sufficient officers across Oahu has created a “dire public safety crisis,” state police union leaders said Thursday.

Robert Cavaco, the new head of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, slammed HPD for leaving large swaths of the island unprotected by restricting overtime and keeping dozens of patrol beats unmanned across the city.

“We are here today to sound the alarm to alert the residents and businesses we work to protect that they are being deceived by the Honolulu Police Department into thinking they are receiving police protection when … they are not,” Cavaco told reporters at a press conference. “This dangerous staffing is an open secret within the department.”

“They are simply turning a blind eye to the problem,” Cavaco added.

SHOPO Headquarters
SHOPO President Robert Cavaco held a press conference Thursday to address staffing concerns in the Honolulu Police Department. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Cavaco, flanked by SHOPO’s Honolulu Chapter leaders and Hawaii Firefighters Association President Bobby Lee, presented printouts that he said showed which patrol beats in each of the HPD’s eight districts went unpatrolled from Friday to Sunday.

According to the materials presented by Cavaco, there were unfilled beats in all districts over the weekend. Most were in Downtown Honolulu, Chinatown, Kalihi and West Oahu.

“We want police leadership to put this at the forefront,” Cavaco said. “This is not deserving to our community. This is not deserving to our police officers to have beats like this going unfilled.”

SHOPO Unfilled Beats Graphic
Patrol data provided by SHOPO shows multiple empty beats in District 5, which includes Kalihi, Kapalama and Moanalua on Sunday. SHOPO
A graphic provided by SHOPO shows numerous unmanned beats in District 1, which includes Downtown Honolulu, Makiki and Chinatown, on Friday. SHOPO

Cavaco said that HPD is currently 322 officers short of being fully staffed and there are another 193 officers currently eligible for retirement.

“If we’re going to keep along this path where we keep ignoring this issue, we’re going to have a lot of officers that might leave, that might retire,” Cavaco said. “Who wants to sustain this shortage going forward?”

Cavaco said the solution to the understaffing issue is for the police department to first acknowledge the problem, then begin authorizing more overtime to fill the gaps while the city works on a long-term fix.

“We sat down with the administration,” Cavaco said. “We tried to fix this, but we’re not being taken seriously.”

Meanwhile, Cavaco said, violent crime is on the rise.

Data presented by SHOPO comparing reported crimes during the first month of 2021 to the first month of 2022 showed increases in weapons-related cases, which rose from 27 in January 2021 to 47 in January 2022.

Cavaco also presented data that showed an 84% increase in robberies, a 67% increase in sex assaults, a 62% increase in rape cases, and a 29% increase in auto thefts.

“Today we are exposing to the public just how bad it truly is in hopes that the public will get engaged and push our county leaders to take action,” Cavaco said.

Residents of high-crime areas SHOPO pointed to as being particularly understaffed have also noticed the lack of police presence.

“I’ve lived in Kalihi my whole life and there are definitely not enough patrol officers,” Diosa Mae Daga, a member of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board, told Civil Beat. “A lot of the neighbors, whenever they get terrorized or there’s crime in their neighborhood, HPD is so late to come. Usually the fire department comes faster than the HPD does.”

Daga’s concern was echoed by community leaders in Chinatown.

“Chinatown and Kalihi, we need police, and I think Waipahu too,” said Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business Association. “These are the areas most hit by crime, homelessness, drugs, and Chinatown is of course the center of it all. We are still ground zero for violence and crime. So there’s not enough police. That is loud and clear.”

In a statement Thursday evening, HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic called Cavaco’s claims a “scare tactic.”

“As leaders of the department, we have a responsibility to provide optimal police services with the staffing and resources that we have,” Vanic said. “In addition to having officers who are trained and ready to respond to 911 emergencies and routine calls for service, we also need officers to investigate violent and property crimes, respond to hostage and barricade incidents, conduct traffic enforcement, register firearms, recruit and train new officers, and perform many other essential duties.”

“Earlier this year, we looked into staffing levels for the patrol districts,” Vanic continued. “For administrative purposes, each patrol officer is assigned to a single, specific beat.  Operationally, however, officers routinely work together and assist each other to cover their sectors.  To say that a neighborhood or beat would not receive police services due to understaffing is incorrect and a scare tactic.”

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