Police routines returning to normal as COVID-19 wanes
Virus-related rules enforcement, activity cost about $1M in OT a month, 12-hour shifts
WAILUKU — After about three months of working 12-hour shifts, five days a week, during the COVID-19 crisis, some police patrol officers will return to regular schedules next month, Maui County Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu said.
“It appears things are settling down,” he said by videoconference at a Maui Police Commission meeting last week.
Faaumu said regular nine-hour shifts will resume July 1 in Molokai, Lanai and Hana patrol districts, where pandemic-related activity requiring officers’ attention has lessened.
Kihei patrol officers also will return to nine-hour shifts and continue with a pilot project, started before the crisis, that will have them rotating watches every three to six months instead of every six to eight weeks, with the goal of having “a schedule that is conducive to a family life,” Faaumu said.
But with staffing shortages in the Wailuku Patrol Division, the department’s largest, officers will remain on 12-hour shifts until the department can increase staffing levels in the division to 87 percent or 90 percent, Faaumu said.
He said police are evaluating activity before making a decision about the Lahaina Patrol Division.
Patrol officers were switched to 12-hour shifts as a way to ease staff shortages in March, as coronavirus-related demands on police increased along with the risk of exposure to people under investigation for COVID-19, Faaumu said.
In addition to regular duties, police were called on to help coordinate and direct traffic at COVID-19 testing and food distribution sites, implement beach patrols to monitor violations of the governor’s and mayor’s stay-at-home public health emergency rules, run roadblocks in Haiku and Ulupalakua to limit entry into Hana, patrol closed resort and business areas and rental car storage near Kahului Airport and help enforce the 14-day quarantine for travelers.
Faaumu said the only way to implement the 12-hour shifts and also comply with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers collective bargaining agreement was to pay officers overtime for work hours beyond their normal shifts.
He estimated the overtime costs at a little more than $1 million a month.
Melissa Magonigle, police business administrator, said at the commission meeting that the department had applied for CARES Act funding reimbursement for overtime for the 12-hour shifts related to the coronavirus.
Even without additional funding, the department would have enough savings in its personnel account budget this fiscal year, which ends June 30, to cover the overtime costs, Faaumu said by telephone Friday.
He said the savings is from salaries budgeted for 70 vacant police officer positions. Some officers retired and others resigned to take police jobs in Washington state before the COVID-19 crisis, Faaumu said.
Early on in the crisis, police realized the department could lose officers who would have to undergo quarantine periods because of contacts with people under investigation for COVID-19, Faaumu said.
“We tried to minimize the contact our officers will have with the public,” he said.
Police set up a call center, staffed by three officers from the Investigative Services Bureau, to handle calls that didn’t require officers to respond in person.
Faaumu said police determined the department could sustain losing five patrol officers a week in the crisis.
Police lost four officers the first week, then one or two the following week, he said.
“And then, when the hospital cluster kicked in, we lost nine officers,” he said. “So at that point, we were very, very concerned.”
Police prepared to have officers in specialized units step into patrol jobs.
The police recruit academy was suspended for one month while 90th Recruit Class members were assigned to help in the Receiving Desk and Records Section, which handled an increasing number of firearm registrations.
“It was all hands on deck,” Faaumu said. “Everybody carried the workload.”
Officers were allowed to wear long-sleeved battle dress uniforms. As reminders for officers, red “proceed with caution” or “PWC” stickers were placed on vehicles and near work computer terminals.
“We were concerned about overworking our officers and the potential of them catching the COVID-19,” Faaumu said.
He said it was a struggle as officers enforced the governor’s and mayor’s public health emergency rules, including ones prohibiting sedentary activities at beaches, that criminalized what had been regular activities.
Police started by doing education for one week, then escalated to warnings and reprimands for the second and third weeks, Faaumu said. By the fourth week, officers were issuing citations, he said.
From March 22 to Friday, police issued 1,055 citations for violations of public health emergency rules.
Then, as some protests called for reopening the state, “we refocused,” Faaumu said.
He said police also were on the lookout to prevent crimes of opportunity in closed resort areas in South and West Maui, as well as around closed stores in towns like Paia and Lahaina.
With thousands of idled rental cars stored in areas around Kahului Airport, police worked with airport officials to close the Haleakala Highway extension from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. as a measure to try to prevent vandalism and theft, Faaumu said.
“We were moving forward, but we realized the demand on us was still too much,” he said.
Police deputized nine National Park Service officers who “worked side by side with us,” Faaumu said. He said the park service employees took over airport duties, helping patrol the rental car storage areas and interacting with people arriving on flights.
State Department of Land and Natural Resources officers also worked with police.
Another boost came with the deployment of the National Guard to help in the COVID-19 crisis, Faaumu said.
“They were boots on the ground,” he said. “They took care of the testing sites. They took care of the food distribution. They also helped us pass out flyers, patrolling the parks and talking to folks out there.”
Another challenge arose when 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Richard Bissen asked police to set up telecourt hearings for prisoners to minimize contact, Faaumu said.
To provide for attorney-client privacy for prisoners during the hearings from the Wailuku Police Station cellblock, other prisoners were transported to the Kihei Police Station cellblock during the hearings that usually occurred from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
By then, beaches had been opened for all activities, so officers who had been assigned to beach patrols were diverted to manage the Kihei cellblock with another sergeant called in to supervise.
“It did take a lot of manpower,” Faaumu said.
He said police again seemed to have adjusted to the crisis when Black Lives Matter protests began following the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after being arrested by Minneapolis police officers.
“That pretty much put us back to where we started off,” Faaumu said.
Officers talked with organizers. And Faaumu himself showed up to talk with participants at one of the first sign-wavings June 1 on Kaahumanu Avenue near Hale Maka’i police headquarters in Wailuku.
Not many officers were visible to monitor the protests. “But behind the scenes, we still have to establish a force in case things go south on us, as we see on the Mainland,” Faaumu said.
He said the police call center has been shut down.
“The community adjusted to it, to that new normal type of lifestyle,” he said. “I think that really helped the department weather the storm.”
Police may continue some COVID-19 practices, including issuing citations for some infractions or violations rather than making arrests, Faaumu said.
With less activity, police officers will be able to take vacations that had been on hold, he said.
“Things are slowing down now, so we’re able to allow our officers to take the time they need,” Faaumu said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.