The Honolulu Police Department unveiled a plan to recruit nearly 300 new officers by next July by increasing the number of training academies held in the upcoming fiscal year.

During a city budget meeting on Wednesday, HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic told City Council that the department hopes to recruit 70 officers by the end of June and another 225 officers by the summer of 2023 through more frequent, smaller-sized training academies.

The department had 329 vacancies out of 2,147 officer positions as of last month, although another 133 recruits are currently in training, Vanic said.

Vanic’s comments and the department’s projected increase in officers comes amid a significant drop in the retention rate of new recruits.

HPD Honolulu Police Dept officers at Re-Open Hawaii rally at the Capitol during Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. May 1, 2020
The retention rate of recruits and the number of recruits graduating from Honolulu police academies has been on the decline. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The most recent class of new officers was announced in January and included just 17 of the 40 recruits who initially signed up for the Honolulu Police Academy.

The previous recruit class, announced in October, included 18 of the 47 recruits who began the academy. The class before that, which was announced this past July, saw 31 of 57 recruits graduate.

Vanic said that the number of recruits failing out of the police academy is decreasing, but the number of people deciding to leave for “personal reasons or personal issues” is on the rise.

“One of the things we have attributed that to is just how competitive the job market is now,” Vanic said. “And also some of the people, quite honestly, when things get a little bit tough and they see ‘I could be doing something else,’ they very quickly jump on that.”

He also blamed the low retention rates on an increased focus on recruitment that resulted in larger class sizes and reduced recruit-to-instructor ratios.

To address the issue, Vanic proposed upping the number of training academies from four to five, which he said would improve recruitment numbers and increase retention rates.

“What we’d like to do is reduce the size of the class, hire the same number of people, increase the number of classes we have from four to five and also increase the staff so that there’s a lower ratio of recruits to instructor,” Vanic said.

Vanic added that he also wants to incorporate a mentor program at the police academy for new recruits.

“That way we can help them get through the program so that our attrition rate goes down and we’re able to utilize the same number of officers we’re hiring and make sure that they get through to the department,” Vanic said.

Meanwhile, another 198 officers are eligible to retire, although Vanic said that he does not anticipate that all eligible officers will retire next year.

“That would be devastating for our department,” he said. “The past couple years we have seen the number of retirements hover between 80 and 90.”

Vanic’s presentation to the City Council follows public criticism by the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers over decreased officer patrol and staffing numbers, which the police union has said is creating a “dire public safety crisis.”

SHOPO president Robert Cavaco has accused the police department of “simply turning a blind eye to the problem” and said there are entire swaths of the island that include areas where police patrol beats are unmanned.

Vanic responded to the criticism at a Honolulu Police Commission meeting the following week by calling Cavaco’s claims a “scare tactic” and saying that the department implemented a minimum staffing percentage of 75%.

Since setting the minimum staffing percentage, the department has had a difficult time reaching that goal, Vanic said Wednesday.

“In some districts, we’re having a hard time having people come in just to meet the 75%,” Vanic told the City Council. “They’d rather go home and spend time with their families. They’ve got to take their kids to school. They have to go take their parent to a doctor’s appointment. So they do come in when they can and we are able pretty much to meet the 75%.”

Councilwoman Andria Tupola asked Vanic whether the goal of 75% staffing was sufficient.

“So your standard is 75%, which in the academic world is kind of like a C,” Tupola said. “And then when people can’t staff that for whatever reason, officers are working long hours, can’t get anyone to do it, we fall to 60%, which is like a D or an F … Is there any big broad thought that maybe the bar is too low?”

Vanic agreed, but went on to say that 75% staffing was a “good starting point.”

“I agree with you and that’s one thing that I do agree with SHOPO on,” Vanic said. “We should be at 100%.”

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