Police commission seeks new meeting place

WAILUKU – The Maui Police Commission is exploring the possibility of finding another location for its monthly meetings, after some residents’ concerns that the current meeting room in the Wailuku Police Station doesn’t provide easy access for the public.

“People in the public have approached me and said they have not felt comfortable having to go through locked doors and check in,” said Commissioner Michael Wilson. “They don’t want to have their names brought up. They just want to be the public.”

During a discussion of the issue at the commission’s meeting last week, Wilson agreed to look into alternative sites and to report back to commissioners.

Considerations for another location include the size of the meeting room, the availability of parking and whether there’s a separate room where the commission could deliberate in a closed executive session, said commission Chairman Roger Dixon.

Currently, to attend a commission meeting in the chief’s conference room on the 2nd floor of the Wailuku Police Station, members of the public are escorted through a secure door to the location that isn’t generally accessible to the public. In front of the station, there are 17 public parking spaces, including two designated for handicapped parking. Some of the spaces are coned off for use by the nine police commissioners when there’s a commission meeting.

One member of the public attended last week’s meeting.

When the commission met on Molokai about a year and a half ago, about 40 residents showed up and brought up concerns, Wilson said.

Dixon said there was interest by commissioners in looking for another meeting location when the issue was discussed about six months ago before being put on hold. “There’s been more interest expressed,” he said July 16.

Commissioner Gregg Lundberg recommended the commission ask to use the public conference room at the Kihei Police Station.

“It’s not behind locked doors. It’s easy for community access. There’s plenty of parking,” Lundberg said. “There’s a lot of push back that we’re behind locked doors, there’s a barrier behind us and the community.”

Police Chief Gary Yabuta, who is retiring at the end of the month, said he would authorize the commission to use the Kihei station public meeting room as long as he is chief.

“The commission can decide where you want to have their meetings,” Yabuta said.

If the meeting location is moved from the Wailuku Police Station, “the police commission secretary will need assistance from you folks, as far as transporting a lot of equipment and so forth to the Kihei station,” Yabuta said.

“It’s our job to go to the location where the commission feels it’s best to serve the community,” he said.

Commissioner Kevin Tanaka said “the good of the Kihei station is it’s more open.”

“The bad is it takes effort to meet somewhere outside of this building,” he said.

Another negative, he said, would be the availability of the chief, deputy and three assistant chiefs, who all work at the Wailuku station. “It’s always nice that they are always here,” Tanaka said.

Commissioner Lawrence Ing said at least half of the meetings should be held in Central Maui, where “the majority of the people reside.”

In the past, Wilson said he had gotten permission from the Maui County Parks and Recreation Department to hold meetings at such locations as the Eddie Tam complex in Makawao, the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani and Kula Community Center, among other county facilities.

Wilson said he supports having commission meetings at different locations throughout the county “so the public can come in and voice their concerns and see and hear and make us more transparent than what we have been.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.