Commissioners mull mayor’s budget cut of 75 police vehicles

Total funding would have meant some trimming elsewhere — mayor’s office

WAILUKU — Some Maui Police Commission members say they are concerned that Mayor Michael Victorino’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year provides funding for only one-fourth of the new replacement vehicles requested by the Maui Police Department.

At a Police Commission meeting Wednesday at the Wailuku Police Station, members asked to be informed of hearing dates so they can testify about the proposed budget.

“I’m concerned that the mayor would cut 100 vehicles down to 25,” said commissioner Roberta “Bobbie” Patnode. “I’m concerned that we make sure that the department gets the equipment, the tools, what they need.

“If the department does not have the tools they need, that has to affect how we’re able to retain officers.”

She noted that the commission’s responsibilities include reviewing the Police Department’s annual request for operating funds.

“I think there’s more we could do to help the department here,” Patnode said. “I’m concerned with what happened with the mayor’s budget.”

Commissioner Gwen Ohashi Hiraga agreed that the reduction in the number of requested vehicles was “a big cut.”

“It’s pretty alarming, the cuts that were made,” she said.

Asked why the decision was made to fund only 25 vehicles in the mayor’s proposed budget, Maui County spokesman Chris Sugidono said Thursday that the budget office has to consider all department budgets and their requests “in accordance with available funds.”

“As it relates to the 100 vehicles requested, a priority was made to replace all vehicles in excess of 95,000 miles,” Sugidono said. “Unfortunately, in order to fund all 100 vehicles as requested, another department would either have to sacrifice needed equipment, programs would have to be reduced or grants would have to be cut.

“For example, Kaunoa Senior Services’ Meals on Wheels program needed an additional $150,000 due to increased food costs in FY 2020. We must consider these impacts when funding departmental budget requests.”

The proposed budget includes more than $1.3 million for 25 police vehicles, including three marked sport utility vehicles, 18 marked patrol cars, two unmarked sedans, an unmarked sport utility vehicle and an unmarked patrol vehicle.

Except for the three marked sport utility vehicles, the vehicles are replacement vehicles.

In a change this year, council members said they won’t be asking department heads to appear at hearings but will be asking them to respond to written questions.

After the Police Commission meeting, Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu said MPD requested funding for 100 vehicles to replace older model vehicles or those with high mileage. Most of the vehicles were for patrol units, and others were for “front line” specialized units, such as the Criminal Investigation Division, Vice Division and Juvenile Section, Faaumu said.

With funding for only 25 vehicles, “it will be a hardship,” Faaumu said.

“But we’ll look at what we have, what we can work with and work around it — but not sacrifice the safety of our public and the safety of our officers,” he said.

The mayor’s proposed budget includes new positions for a sergeant and four officers for the police Critical Outreach and Response through Education, or CORE program, and 16 part-time police cadets.

Faaumu said police had asked for funding for 10 cadets, but the mayor’s budget increased the number.

Police are working on plans to restart the cadet program for people ages 18 to 20 who are interested in police careers but are too young to apply to be police officers.

Before the program was ended during the recession, cadets had been assigned to work in the Receiving Desk at the Wailuku Police Station.

“This time around, we’re going to change it a little,” Faaumu said.

If the council approves funding, he said some cadets would be assigned to rural districts such as Lanai, Molokai and Hana.

Faaumu said the cadet program will include a class curriculum in police subjects.

“They will be exposed to police work, and they will be getting paid, too,” said Lt. Gregg Okamoto, commander of the Community Relations Section, who is putting together the program.

He said the idea behind the program is to recruit young people interested in police work and keep them employed until they can apply for police officer jobs.

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