Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BARKING IN THE DARK

BARKING IN THE DARK: Joan Conrow’s recent interview with Kaua`i Police Department (KPD) Chief Darryl Perry in the Hawai`i Independent begins with Perry’s depiction of what he found when he took office saying:

When Police Chief Darryl Perry started work on Kauai two years ago, he was startled to find that his office lacked not only transition reports, but even such rudimentary supplies as a pencil and stapler.

“I wondered what else I would find if the basics were missing,” Perry recalled during a KKCR radio interview that I conducted with him on Thursday afternoon.

He soon discovered that much more was missing from the long-troubled department, including an internal affairs division, certain records, modern policies, good morale, and leadership. The force had some 30 vacant positions, and no disciplinary action had been taken against officers for the previous three years, resulting in a backlog of about 20 cases.

Whether this is due to ignorance of what happened before he took office along with a lack of comprehension of the laws governing the police commission and department or is the result of a selective memory is a matter only Perry himself can clarify.

But it’s essential that light be shed on some of the misconceptions and misperceptions that might result from reading the veiled passive aggressive allegations.

Let’s start with the complaint regarding processing of complaints.

There has been a fundamental problem of ambiguity and lack of clarity with the processing of complaints on Kaua`i since the county charter was adopted.

The relevant charter provisions read:

Section 11.03. General Powers of the Commission. The police
commission shall:

C. Receive, consider and investigate charges brought by the public against the conduct of the department or any of its members and submit a written report of its findings to the chief of police within ninety days.

Section 11.06. Discipline and Removal. The dismissal, suspension, or demotion of any police officer or employee in the police department shall be under procedures set forth by civil service laws and regulations.

There is nothing further stated in the charter as to what happens then. The problem has been that the HAR (Hawai`i Administrative Rules) are not of much help either. As a matter of fact they call for complaints to be filed with either the commission or the chief, according to a long standing commission complaint, causing no small confusion in tracking complaints.

Does the charter’s wording preclude an internal affairs division? After all if the commission is supposed to “(r)eceive, consider and investigate charges” what does an IA do? And what happens after the chief receives the report? And who is to do the investigation for the commission? It would seem to indicate an independent investigation is required conducted by the commission, not the department.

In practice the commission has received a small budget to hire investigators but that money has come up short of what is needed year after year with finding the most cost effective method of hiring investigators taking up an inordinate amount of commission time and energy in recent years.

One of the first police commission meetings PNN attended was when Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, apparently illegally interfering with the commission’s function, attempted to remove Chief George Freitas on her own by directing his secretary to seize his badge and gun under trumped up charges, all but a minor one of which- that his girlfriend rode in his police car- were determined by the commission to be unfounded.

According to the charter, the only function the Mayor serves regarding the KPD is to nominate the commissioners, who are confirmed by the county council.

At that meeting amidst the confusion and political machinations- under a county attorney, Hartwell Blake, who simply refused to recognize the charter and allowed the mayor to interfere with the commission and department in any manner she pleased- there was an agenda item that was deferred and did not show up on the agenda again for the next few years while the commission’s time was dominated with the proceedings regarding Freitas.

The item was to initiate review leading to new administrative rules as concerned complaints. To this day the commission operates under the rules they had found to be wanting for years before that meeting.

Once Freitas retired- with a huge “settlement” buyout in exchange for his dropping of a open-and-shut-case lawsuit against the county – the commission’s job number one was the search for a new chief. Through a series of interim chiefs the issues of administrative rules and insufficient money for investigators- and therefore the complaints themselves- took a backseat until it finally reappeared on the agenda again right after the appointment of Chief KC Lum.

But of course at that point all hell broke loose again with a new round of politically motivated charges against not just Lum but the chair and vice chair of the commission, all of whose time was consumed fighting the trumped up charges of two councilpersons- Mel Rapozo and Shaylene Iseri Carvalho- who held personal grudges against Lum.

Eventually Council Chair Kaipo Asing, in order to keep the support of the two for his now infamous iron fisted rule of the council, filed the complaint against Lum... at first officially on council letterhead appearing to speak for the whole council until complaints against Asing were filed when he claimed he just made a mistake by using county letterhead.

For the next two years the political shenanigans and charges dominated the commission meetings, interrupted and compounded by the “Hop Sing” episode where commissioner Leon Gonsalves’ email by using the racial slur was revealed spurring public pressure that caused then-Mayor Brian Baptiste to ask the council to remove Gonsalves.

When the council finally put the matter on the agenda under pressure from the police union leadership and others- including Perry’s brother Warren and many other of Perry’s supporters, including Gonsalves who also stated how he “could throw up” seeing Lum sworn in after Perry had lost out to Lum for the top cop job- the council refused to remove Gonsalves claiming it was “just his way of talking”.

Despite the blatant ethnic slur- Lum is of Chinese descent as was the Hop Sing character, a servant on the TV show Bonanza- Gonsalves was excused because he apparently had slurred many others with ethnic nicknames, as did others at the department, so somehow it didn’t matter because, as Asing and other councilmembers said, it was just “local culture”.

Amidst all that, the commission- by then the go to body to receive and investigate complaints- was in such constant turmoil and operating with bitter cross-table personal animosities, it made all other work, especially processing complaints, almost impossible.

And while all this was going on, the department’s chief financial officer took sick and went on leave with cancer right after Lum took office. This caused a constant lack of up to date accounting, compounding the longstanding deficiencies in the reporting system that kept reports from the financial officer up to three months behind causing the "actuals" of the last three months of the fiscal year to be unavailable until the year was over.

Since the department had been anywhere from 30 to 45 officer short for many years overtime pay was out of control. But rather than increase the line item for overtime the council expected Lum to cover all the shifts with the money appropriated for regular salary- something that, of course could never cover the higher overtime pay rate.

Lum was forced to scrimp and save in order to put enough officers on the streets- a policy the council and mayor, not to mention the community, insisted upon- without going over budget.

Despite this- and the fact that a final report from the finance director found he was not over budget- he was excoriated by the council for going over his budget when the real problem was apparently an accounting one caused by the absence of the long time financial officer.

That may explain why there were seemingly insufficient pencils and staplers with the money going to overtime salaries.

It would have been surprising- given all the political in-fighting, the major upheavals in removing two chiefs, the appointments of multiple interim chiefs, the procedural problems with complaint processing, the lack of a financial officer and all the other items detailed in Anthony Sommer’s book KPD Blue (which Perry recently seeming admitted was factual in saying “the days of KPD Blue are ‘over’”) – if anything else on the commission agenda was moving forward, including processing of complaints under unclear rules.

Pointing fingers is easy. Examining precisely what happened- especially when you’ve been in denial about it- is a little bit harder.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

That's a very poignant last sentence and very important.

Lum apologists continue to pretend that K.C. was a good chief when all evidence to the contrary points to the fact that he hurt the department way more than he helped it. The charges that got him fired were obviously trumped up, but since he's left (and along with the retirements of Isoda and Arinaga), KPD is a better place than it's been in a long, long time.

It's time for the few Lum supporters to stop the denial -- K.C. was a complete joke. His main c.i. was the biggest drug dealer on Kauai, and he helped ruin the lives of his biggest supporters. Good riddance to him and keep up the good work Chief Perry.