Jordan Lowe, along with a handful of other heads of state agencies, won approval from Senate committees this week.

Gov. Josh Green’s pick to lead the new state Department of Law Enforcement plans to eventually phase out the use of private security guards at state-run airports in favor of deputy sheriffs and promised to work with other law enforcement agencies and shipping companies to increase inspections for fireworks at the ports.

A panel of senators on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to Jordan Lowe, who has been appointed to head the agency, which was created by a law passed last year that split off the narcotics and sheriffs divisions from the Department of Public Safety.

During his confirmation hearing in the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, Lowe said about 80 deputy sheriffs are assigned to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and airports on the neighbor islands have no deputies.

Law Enforcement Director Jordan Lowe, right, greets supporters and members of the law enforcement community after clearing a committee hearing on his nomination. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Private security guards from Universal Protection Service supplement the 80 deputies in Honolulu and comprise the entire security force at other state airports. The private security firm was awarded a three-year, $178 million contract by the state Department of Transportation to provide security services through Feb. 14, 2024.

Lowe plans to supplant the hundreds of private security guards with deputy sheriffs over the next four years. The private security guards are granted general police powers from the state to patrol the airports. But the state’s previous security contractor, Securitas, drew some scrutiny from lawmakers in the past over cases of alleged bribery among the guards.

Cracking Down On Fireworks

Lowe, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent, said he also plans to step up inspections of containers for fireworks.

“We would speak with all the shippers, gain their cooperation,” Lowe said, adding that acting on information provided by shipping companies and intelligence gathered elsewhere may be easier than “trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

“One method that individuals who bring in illegal fireworks use is they pack the legal fireworks at the front (of a container), illegals in the middle and legal fireworks at the end,” Lowe said. “Unless you de-container everything and open every box, you can’t tell.”

Lowe also plans to get all of the state’s officers under the new department accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. Hawaii’s four county police departments are all CALEA-accredited and deputy sheriffs, who were required by law to be CALEA-accredited years ago, recently began pursuing accreditation.

The department is getting its administrative functions together this year and is not expected to begin full operations until next year.

The law enforcement department is expected to absorb deputy sheriffs from the state Department of Public Safety; investigators from the Attorney General’s Office and certain homeland security functions from the state Department of Defense by January.

Sen. Glenn Wakai, chair of the public safety committee, called Lowe the “George Washington of this department.”

“You’re like the first guy in,” Wakai said shortly before the committee voted unanimously to recommend Lowe’s nomination to the full 25-member Senate.

Other Directors Cruise Through

Several of Green’s other nominees also cruised through their Senate confirmation hearings on Wednesday.

They included Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, whom Green selected to again lead the state Department of Defense. Hara served in the same position under former Gov. David Ige and played an instrumental role in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as head of the Hawaii Army National Guard.

Hara said his department started the year with more than 170 vacancies but filled 90 of them so far. The primary goal of the state DOD, including the Hawaii Army National Guard and Hawaii Air National Guard, is to stay combat-ready in the event of war while using guard members’ skills to help alleviate natural and man-made disasters affecting the state, Hara said.

Hara said he plans to focus on transitioning much of the DOD staff from a facility in Diamond Head to a planned facility for first responders in the Mililani Tech Park.

The Senate public safety committee voted unanimously in favor of Hara’s nomination.

At a separate hearing Wednesday, the Senate Water and Land Committee heard two more Cabinet nominations: Scott Glenn to lead the state Office of Planning and Sustainable Development; and Laura Kaakua, the deputy of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Glenn faced some opposition from testifiers who blamed him for shutting down the last coal plant on Oahu without a reliable backup supply of energy during his previous role as the state’s energy director. But it was the Legislature that required the plant to be shut down by law years ago.

Glenn’s nomination was supported by organizations that advocate for building, such as the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, as well as those with an eye toward preservation, including the Aha Moku, a key Native Hawaiian advisory group, and the Blue Planet Foundation.

From left to right, state Planning Director Scott Glenn, Sen. Lorraine Inouye, DLNR Deputy Director Laura Kaakua, and Sen. Angus McKelvey pose in a committee room after Glenn and Kaakua cleared a confirmation hearing. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“He’s a serious guy for a serious job,” Nathaniel Kinney, who represents the carpenters, told the committee. “We need a lot of planning.”

No one showed up to oppose Kaakua’s nomination. One of her biggest supporters was Maui Sen. Angus McKelvey, who commended her work on trying to resolve the situation with a stranded yacht in Honolua Bay last week. He said Kaakua fielded questions from the community over the weekend.

“I’ve got to tell you, you’ve actually been walking the walk,” McKelvey said.

Kaakua said that, if confirmed, she plans to spend the summer going over DLNR’s land inventory to identify lands suitable for affordable housing, among other uses.

Last week, a Senate committee also passed along the nomination of Cathy Betts to head the state Department of Human Services, a role she held under Ige.

All the nominees that cleared committee hearings so far still need to win confirmation by the full 25-member Senate.

Some of the more controversial Cabinet nominees including Dawn Chang to head DLNR and Chris Sadayasu to lead the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism have yet to face hearings.

On March 16, the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee is scheduled to evaluate Kali Watson’s nomination to lead the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Green picked Watson after his last director, Ikaika Anderson, withdrew his nomination.

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