Retired Maui police officers spent their careers arresting murderers, robbers and other miscreants. Now, they're questioning why the state has made it difficult for them to carry a concealed firearm under a federal law that allows them to do so.
The retired officers say the state, which handles the qualification program, has made the firearms test stricter than the one taken by active-duty police officers. Retired officers are required to submit voluminous paperwork, which includes personal information such as medical and mental health files. Some of the forms need to be notarized.
State officials say the concealed-firearms process for retired officers is in place to ensure they can handle a weapon safely in the same way active-duty officers do. State officials added that they are doing their best to administer a nonmandatory program for which they have no funding to cover costs.
Retired police Lt. Lenie Lawrence cleans his gun last week in Wailuku. Lawrence is among retired police officers frustrated with the state’s administration of a program that allows them to get permits to possess concealed firearms.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
But the retired Maui officers disagree.
"It's like they are trying to make us go through all of these hoops so we give up and say we don't want to do it," said Maui Police Department retiree Rick Camara, who has applied to carry a concealed firearm in order to protect himself and his family.
He is waiting to take his firearms qualification test to receive his permit.
Camara, who retired as a lieutenant four years ago, said he had been trusted to carry a firearm for 25 years at the department and doesn't understand the state's handling of the matter.
Retired Lt. Lenie Lawrence agrees with Camara. Even those who own firearms don't necessarily have to release all of their medical and mental health records and get a full physical from a doctor, he pointed out.
Lawrence has made his way through the cumbersome process to become a rare, or possibly the only, instance of a retired MPD officer who has been able to acquire a permit to carry a concealed weapon under the federal law.
The process is especially tough for retired officers, who during firearms testing cannot miss a target, he said. If they do, they fail.
Active-duty officers undergoing firearms testing may miss the target and still pass the firearms test, Lawrence said.
"You've got retired policemen held to a higher standard than the regular policemen," said Lawrence, a 27-year veteran of the department.
Lawrence's attorney, Kevin Jenkins, said the community also can benefit from retired officers being armed for safety's sake.
If retired officers took on the responsibility of carrying weapons again, "there is more police presence on the street. It's a great law, I think," Jenkins said.
(But the law does not grant retired officers any law-enforcement power or status.)
The only other way retired officers can get approval to carry a concealed firearm is through the chief of police. But retirees said that permission is hard to come by.
Supervising state Deputy Attorney General Christopher Young of the Department of the Attorney General's Criminal Justice Division heads the state agency charged with overseeing the concealed weapons program. He said the state "in good faith is trying to comply with the statute."
While Young said he understands the retired officers' point of view, he also would like them to see the issue from the state's perspective.
For example, when retired officers complain that they are being held to a higher firearms testing standard, Young said: "It's easy to say it should be identical. (But) the person is no longer under the restrictions of the department."
In an e-mail, he added that active-duty officers qualify yearly to use firearms and are given updated training in firearms tactics, handling and use. Retired officers are required only to complete certification, and the law does not require further training. Retired officers' permits to carry concealed weapons last for a year.
The state program "does not hold retired officers to a higher standard; it holds them to a standard of an active law enforcement officer and ensures public safety," Young said.
In 2004, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The law allowed qualified law-enforcement officers and qualified retired law-enforcement officers to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States, regardless of any state or local law but with certain exceptions.
Last year, changes were made to the 2004 law. Now, it includes "qualified retirement law enforcement officer" as those who've been separated from their agencies but remain in good standing with them. The revised statute also reduces the years-of-service requirement for the officers from 15 to 10 years, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Hawaii continues the process of updating its program to include the 2010 amendments, Young said.
Some retired officers have found the state's process too difficult or intrusive for them to attempt to get a permit for a concealed firearm. John Palazzotto, a retired Maui police lieutenant, is one of them.
He has not applied to carry a concealed firearm under the federal law because he is troubled by the requirement that he release all his medical records.
"Why do they need to know that?" he asked.
Palazzotto also added that the initial $500 cost to take a firearms test was too high. Now, the cost for the test has dropped to about $100.
"Just the whole thing bothers me," he said.
On the Mainland, where Palazzotto has spent some time living, there is a camaraderie between police departments and their retirees. But that's not the case here, he said.
Palazzotto said the law could help officers like him to protect themselves and their families. At one time while he was a police officer, a criminal had money out for someone to kill him, he said.
Palazzotto said he has seen that criminal out of custody near his own home.
In the past, Lawrence said he has paid thousands of dollars to fly to the Mainland and Oahu to take firearms-qualification courses in order to receive his permit because the state's vendor to qualify the officers was on the Mainland or Oahu. Now, however, the state has a local vendor that can qualify officers on Maui, he said.
Lawrence called the state program to qualify retired officers "horrendous."
Young explained that in order to provide retirees with a firearms certification program, the Department of the Attorney General several years ago drafted a training and qualifications program.
It was designed to ensure that a retired officer could properly handle and fire a concealed firearm in the same manner as an active officer, Young said.
Some retired officers have said the state is not following the federal law and they should be qualified to carry a concealed weapon under their former department's standards.
Young said the federal law does not require the state to use the firearm and training program from the retired law-enforcement officer's agency.
But both Young and the retired law-enforcement officers said the counties' law-enforcement agencies also could qualify their retired officers if a program were in place. Maui County does not have such a program.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.