By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
In written responses to an online survey, Hawaii Police Chief Harry Kubojiri said he is aware of his department’s “need to improve our visibility and response time.”
A record 608 individuals responded to the department’s community action survey in May, and Kubojiri referred to the survey as “our report card from the community.”
“It’s educational for me to see what the comments are that the public has, and it affords me the opportunity to respond to that and, hopefully, educate the public,” Kubojiri told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday afternoon.
The survey results are available on the department’s website, and Kubojiri responded to “the most common issues raised by individual comments received in the survey,” including response time.
“Unfortunately, the population growth of our island and the increased number of calls for service, coupled with the recent economic struggles faced by our county, have increased the time it takes to keep up with the number of calls received,” the chief wrote. He noted that in-progress violent crimes and other “life endangering calls” are given the highest priority by dispatchers, resulting “in a longer wait for victims of crimes with a lower priority, such as property crimes.”
He said the county budget for the current fiscal year includes 10 new officers — five each for Puna, which has the most rapid population growth, and Ka‘u, a sparsely populated district with a land mass larger than the island of Oahu.
Kubojiri acknowledged that in downtown Hilo, on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona, and in Pahoa town, officers “face challenges” in dealing with drugs, alcohol, homelessness and panhandling.
“To begin with, homelessness and panhandling are not against the law,” he wrote, and added that the county’s ordinance against “aggressive” panhandling “is not an easy law to enforce.”
“Furthermore, in order to enforce laws dealing with persons under the influence of alcohol or drugs in public, we have to prove that they are a danger to themselves or others,” Kubojiri wrote. “Even with that element present, the most we can do — without some attendant criminal act on the part of the impaired individual — is request a mental health evaluation of that person.”
To a question that police aren’t “solving burglaries and other crimes” the chief wrote that the department is “constantly seeking ways to improve our training and the methods we use to both solve and combat crime.”
“Sometimes victims become discouraged initially because it takes more time than they expect for a case to proceed through the criminal justice system, but they later are relieved to learn that their case was solved after a lengthy investigation,” he wrote.
Two questions highlighted different perspectives from community members. At least one asked why officers don’t “spend more time citing motorists for traffic violations” while another asked why police “spend so much time citing motorists for traffic violations.”
Kubojiri wrote “the enforcement of traffic laws is a necessary component in reducing the number of traffic collisions, which put all motorists and pedestrians at risk.”
“Our department continues to maintain a strong traffic enforcement program aimed primarily at the violations that tend to cause the most traffic collisions, namely, distracted drivers and drinking drivers,” he stated. “Our statistics show that in fiscal year 2012–2013, we made 1,421 DUI arrests and issued 2,718 citations for distracted driving and cellphone use.”
The numbers of DUI arrests have remained relatively constant over the past three years, with officers making 1,480 arrests in fiscal year 2010-2011 and 1,419 arrests in 2011-2012.
“Unfortunately, it seems as of late, no matter what we’re trying on the enforcement end has had little impact on the traffic collisions and DUI count,” Kubojiri said Tuesday. “It’s something we would like voluntary compliance with from citizens. Obeying the speed limit, and don’t drink and drive, and it will make our roadways safer.”
The chief said a “multifaceted approach,” including education and substance abuse counseling and treatment, is needed to help get impaired drivers off the road on their own volition.
Officers have stepped up enforcement of the electronic device ban, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. In fiscal year 2010-2011, officers issued 1,008 tickets for violations of the county ordinance, while the number of drivers cited more than doubled, to 2,123 in fiscal year 2011-2012.
Police and other emergency responders are exempt from the ordinance while in the performance of their duties, but Kubojiri said that officers are “highly discouraged” from using cellphones and other electronic devices while driving.
“During public testimony prior to the Hawaii County Council’s enactment of the county ordinance that took effect in 2010, I testified against this exception to the proposed law in my capacity as police chief,” he wrote. “Furthermore, we have provided training to clarify to our officers that this exemption does not apply to personal calls while on duty or to any use of a mobile electronic device while driving when they are off duty.”
“We recognize that it is crucial for our officers to lead by example,” the chief wrote. He urged members of the public to inform the department about officers who appear to be violating the law via the Feedback page on the department’s website, where survey results and Kubojiri’s responses to questions and comments can also be found.
“I’m glad we had the number of people that we had, just over 600, participate in the survey,” Kubojiri said Tueday. “The more people who participate, the better a picture it paints for me in areas that I can try to improve on with the respect to the services we provide to the community. I do take the survey seriously.”
On the Internet: www.hawaiipolice.com.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.