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Police chief defends sending Maui officers to Mauna Kea

$68,000 tab to be reimbursed by state

Maui Police Department officers gather at the base of Mauna Kea in this photo that was included in a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. E. Kalani Flores filed a lawsuit in 3rd Circuit Court last week alleging that police violated state law by having Honolulu and Maui police assist Hawaii island officers. However, MPD said officers can go to other jurisdictions at the request of another chief under state law.

Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu defended his decision to send 27 Maui police officers to Mauna Kea last month and says he would do so again if requested by Hawaii County police.

“I will support them,” Faaumu said Wednesday.

Maui officers were sent July 16 to 23 to Mauna Kea, where protesters had gathered to oppose the start of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at the summit.

Initially, Maui police went to assist with the safe convoy of vehicles to the summit. But when officers arrived at the road to the summit, there were demonstrators.

“On a side note, that’s what makes the state of Hawaii, the law enforcement community, so unique. . . . We realize that if there is any issue, man-made or natural disaster, we are always going to be relying on each other,” Faaumu said of the agreements between county police departments.

"That’s what makes the state of Hawaii, the law enforcement community, so unique. . . . We realize that if there is any issue, man-made or natural disaster, we are always going to be relying on each other." — Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu

County police departments assist each another because help from outside the state is hours away, Faaumu explained. In the Hawaii island case, the chief said he needs to consider the safety of everyone, those opposing the project, those who support the project, the average citizen who just wants to go on with their daily routine and the visitor who may be “lost in the midst of it.”

“I have to take all of those groups and make sure (we) find a balance and a happy medium,” he added.

Hawaii Police Chief Paul Ferreira, who requested the assistance, would have the same considerations. “That’s why I support what he did,” said Faaumu.

It cost around $68,000 to send Maui police officers to Hawaii island, which will be reimbursed by the state Department of the Attorney General, said Assistant Police Chief Victor Ramos on Monday.

In addition to personnel, two Special Enforcement Emergency Detail vans and a Kihei patrol wagon were shipped to Hawaii island. They were to be used to transport police and arrestees from the area to the nearest processing facility, according to information in a memo Faaumu sent to the Maui County Council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee in response to questions from committee Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez last month.

Police Sgt. John Sang said the state attorney general’s office directly paid for the shipment of the vehicles, so he did not have cost totals for those items.

The council’s Economic, Development and Budget Committee last week discussed resources expended in sending Maui police and equipment to Mauna Kea. No legislative action was taken.

Some council members were critical of the department’s actions, including Tamara Paltin who at the meeting said “I don’t think we should have gone.”

She called the action a “political situation” unlike when officers would respond to other islands to assist with natural disasters. She questioned what would have happened if officers suffered injuries or if there was violence.

“The potential for a bad outcome outweighed the potential for a good outcome,” Paltin said.

Council Chairwoman Kelly King also questioned the need to move 27 officers to Hawaii island, noting the department has said in the past that it was short of police officers. Rawlins-Fernandez said that Kauai County did not send any officers because of their personnel shortfall.

Ramos said Monday that as the officers were deployed, “our police service to the residents and visitors of Maui County was never compromised.” To ensure there were enough officers on staff, the department did fill positions left open by the deployment. There were for six patrol officers each in the Wailuku and Kihei patrol districts that needed to be filled, Ramos said.

The cost to fill the positions was $26,000 — $12,000 for Wailuku and $14,000 for Kihei — said Sang. Maui County will foot this bill, Ramos said.

The rest of the officers did not have to be replaced, Ramos said. These included officers in the Criminal Investigation, Juvenile Crime Prevention, Vice, and Plans and Training divisions.

A lawsuit against Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii island police departments over Neighbor Island police assisting at Mauna Kea is progressing, though no court hearing dates were listed as of Wednesday, according to online court records.

The lawsuit was filed in 3rd Circuit Court last month on Hawaii island by cultural practitioner and Hawaii Community College professor E. Kalani Flores, who alleged that it was a violation of state law having officers from other islands assisting Hawaii island police.

He claims that county police officers are prohibited from exercising their police powers beyond their territorial jurisdiction, unless it is related to an investigation that originated in their home county.

Ramos previously has said that under state law, if one county police chief requests assistance from another chief and there’s an agreement between chiefs, officers can be sent to the other jurisdiction “with all authority and rights.”

Maui police officials have said that island counties have worked together over the years in Green Harvest marijuana eradication and on state task forces, many focusing on drug-related cases that included officers from county police departments and federal law enforcement.

Faaumu said that requests for assistance from other police departments, especially the Honolulu Police Department, are made frequently, as many as about a dozen a month, although they do not involve requests for large numbers of personnel.

Some requests include assistance from the Honolulu Police Department’s lab and personnel, along with specialized officers on Oahu who can provide training to Maui police. Other requests may include undercover officers from another department to deal with criminal “hot spots” on Maui.

Maui police work with federal agencies, such as in the recent Amanda Eller missing hiker case. Federal agencies offered help, Faaumu said.

She was found alive after 17 days in the East Maui rain forest.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.