With the number of Honolulu Police Department vacancies hovering at around 350, Honolulu Police Chief Joe Logan and police union officials have their own ideas about how to retain veterans, increase recruitment and protect residents. Better pay, affordable housing and flexible scheduling are some of the top incentives when it comes to attracting people to join the force.

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But for many new recruits, their incentive is more personal — to make our communities better places to live.

Logan told a group of West Oahu residents earlier this month that with increased training classes and incentives to retain existing officers, he expects the number of vacancies to drop in the next six to eight months.

“We still have people retiring and mainland departments recruiting our officers, giving them better pay. We can’t do that but maybe we can offer a bonus. We may try to give $5,000 to $10,000 to stay here,” Logan said. “We may need to change some rules to do that.”

HPD recruit class members fire their pistols during target practice at the at the Honolulu Police Training Academy range also known as Ke Kula Maka'i out in Waipahu.
Honolulu police recruits receive weapons training at the police academy in Waipahu earlier this month. HPD is looking for ways to fill 350 vacancies and retain officers already on the force. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Hawaii’s low unemployment rates, high cost of living, and the complexity of hiring and training police means that HPD needs to look outside the box to find enough qualified recruits.

In 2021, more than 2,850 people applied to take the HPD entrance exam. Nearly 900 people passed the test, but just 189 were selected by the department for recruit classes.

Logan said high school graduates are an untapped resource that could be used to find more recruits. He wants to develop a law enforcement class in public schools to lay the groundwork to interest young people considering a career in policing. He also talked about recruiting experienced officers on the mainland that are from Hawaii and would like to return home at the end their careers.

“They have the experience and training, they just need to brush up on our laws and procedures.” he said.

Honolulu Police Chief Joe Logan listens to Commissioner Chin on screen during the Honolulu Police Commission meeting.
Honolulu Police Chief Joe Logan want to retain more veteran officer and innovate to increase recruitment. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Other recruitment ideas include creating a three-day, 12-hour shift schedule with four days off so officers can have more family time, providing affordable housing for first responders until they can afford a home of their own, and updating technology so officers spend less time doing paperwork and more time patrolling the streets.

“My priority is filling all the patrols. That’s the backbone of the department,” Logan said.

Staffing In Crisis

“The Honolulu Police Department is in a full-scale staffing crisis, and it is critical that police leaders and government leaders acknowledge that and act accordingly,” said Stephen Keogh, vice president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. “Unfortunately, HPD is well past the point of being able to use traditional recruitment methods to meet our staffing needs. We cannot hire and train new officers as quickly as they are leaving.”

Keogh said the city must look at retention bonuses, housing allowances and flexible time off to keep veteran officers in the department. SHOPO has called the officer staffing shortage dangerous, leaving beats unmanned across the city.

“We should be working immediately on items that will improve working conditions and morale, such as modernizing uniforms, scheduling options and more,” Keogh said. “For recruiting, HPD must get more aggressive. We should be heavily recruiting from the military bases, and we should be doing what the mainland departments do to us — we should be recruiting there. Offer a potential candidate the opportunity to serve a community and live in Hawaii.”

SHOPO and the state recently negotiated a three-year contact to give thousands of police officers 5% raises per year over the next three years. SHOPO represents more than 2,700 officers statewide, including about 1,900 on Oahu, 433 on the Big Island, about 300 on Maui and 150 on Kauai.

“We expect to see financial incentives proposed, but they are not silver bullets. They tend to be temporary and can worsen morale for those who have spent their careers serving this community,” Keogh said.

According to the Honolulu Police Department, before the raises the base salary for officers with two to three years experience was $5,687 per month; $5,923 per month for officers with four to six years experience; and $6,152 per month, for officers who have worked seven to nine years.

Ke Kula Makai

Ke Kula Makai is HPD’s training academy in Waipahu where recruits learn the skills needed to become officers. Every two months, a new class of recruits enters a six-month training program. Each class starts with about 20 recruits, but loses some to attrition. Many recruits say police work is a calling for them.

Jeremy Patricio, 31, is from Liliha and is part of the 205th recruiting class. He said every day is both physically and mentally challenging.

“I want to make a difference in my community,” Patricio said. “Every day you want to give it your all.”

Molly Wilt, 36, is one of four women in her class. Wilt said the training has been tough but well worth the effort.

“I decided to join HPD because I’ve always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot in my life and feel like I have a lot to offer as a female officer.”

HPD recruits train on the Emergency Vehicle Operation Course at the Honolulu Police Training Academy in Waipahu.
HPD recruits train on the Emergency Vehicle Operation Course at the Honolulu police training academy in Waipahu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Maj. Mike Lambert with HPD’s training division said, along with classroom studies to learn Hawaii state laws, recruits learn self defense, tactical driving skills and live firearm training.

Lambert said previously recruit classes were much larger and the attrition rates were as high as 60%. He said with the smaller, more frequent classes, there is more focus on mentoring individual recruits which should reduce attrition.

“They (new recruits) have different stresses and stimulations The old way was we tried to shake the tree as hard as we could and see who really wanted to be here,” Lambert said. “That worked for a decade. Now the group we pull from have different expectations on what the work environment is and one of those things they want is to feel part of the team immediately. From Day 1 they have a mentor assigned to them.”

Lambert said when recruits complete the training and graduate, they are ready for the job.

“It’s brutal. It’s very intense training,” he said. “There is nothing like it in the world unless you come from a law enforcement background. It’s a combination of boot camp and college. As much as we test your mind during the day, in the afternoon we test your body.”

Police Work Has Changed

Maj. Aaron Takasaki-Young, with the department’s Human Resources Division, said recruits are also trained to work with people struggling with mental health challenges.

“Police work has changed,” Takasaki-Young said. “Twenty years ago we didn’t have so many mentally ill. Now it is prevalent. The training has to be geared to recognize people that are in that type of crisis and not just using our force of authority to address them appropriately.”

Lambert said recruits are trained to quickly evaluate a situation and respond appropriately.

“When it’s criminal, we are going to do what we do, put them in cuffs and take them away to protect the community. When someone is in crisis you are going to see us slow down, talk to them, try our best to get them to services and avoid going to jail. You may have already seen this but hopefully it becomes more prevalent,” Lambert said.

Lambert said the bottom line is to train recruits to maintain the highest standards in the country.

“It is a difficult career and it is a career of sacrifice,” he said. “It is the only job of its kind that will give you this type of satisfaction. If you ever thought of being a hero, of making a change in someone’s life for the better, it is one of the few carers in life that will give you that opportunity.”

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