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Police chief shares work done in first 60 days, says morale is good

Proposal to increase chief’s salary has spurred some complaints

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier is sworn in Dec. 15. Pelletier provided an overview of his work over his first 60 days during a Maui Police Commission meeting on Wednesday. The Maui News / MATTHE THAYER photo

From starting a multicultural advisory counsel to initiating a staffing study for the department, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier pointed to some of his work in the first 60 days and said “morale is good,” in contrast to recent complaints surrounding a proposed raise for the chief.

Pelletier, a former captain with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, spoke at a Maui Police Commission virtual meeting Wednesday, about two months after he was sworn in on Dec. 15 with his handpicked deputy Charles Hank III, also a veteran of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

Pelletier and the commission have been in the public spotlight recently after he gave a presentation to the commission Feb. 2 and said that an increased annual salary from $158,851 to $195,000 would be “fair” based on his comparisons with salaries of police chiefs of departments of similar populations in California. The commission voted unanimously on Feb. 2 to recommend a 29 percent salary increase to $205,000.

Police Commission Chairman Frank De Rego said last week that the commission and police chief didn’t initiate the discussion but were invited by the Salary Commission to make a “benchmark” recommendation for the police chief’s salary. The Salary Commission is still mulling possible salary increases for the chief and other county department heads.

The Police Commission and chief’s recommendations upset some in the community who noted Pelletier had just started his job. Community members also said morale is at a low point at the department and said that officers, especially high-ranking ones, were leaving under the new leadership.

“I can tell you that morale is at an all-time low,” Maui police Sgt. Nick Krau, who is Maui chapter chairperson of the Maui Chapter Board of Directors of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers union, said at a Salary Commission online meeting Feb. 11. “We’re losing senior leadership at a very alarming rate.”

According to data presented Wednesday by the department, there were 99 vacancies among sworn staff as of Jan. 31, for a 75 percent staffing rate.

Commissioner Emmett Rodrigues on Wednesday asked Pelletier how he felt morale was in the department.

“If you were to ask me what I really think, I think the morale is good,” Pelletier said.

He praised the department and pointed out that officers have volunteered their time to be part of a recruitment council to try to attract more officers.

“Motivated cops are productive cops,” he said. “Motivated cops are happy cops. That’s why we are doing everything we can to make their job easier.”

Pelletier said that is why he decided to pull patrol officers from going to miscellaneous accident calls in Wailuku, Lahaina and Kihei districts.

For example, if someone fell down the stairs, an ambulance and fire crews would respond as well, but police wouldn’t necessarily be needed, Pelletier said.

The process won’t change for rural districts, he added.

Another implemented change is having officers in the Traffic Section respond to traffic incidents involving injuries. Pelletier explained that if a patrol officer were responding to a domestic violence call and then received a call for a traffic accident with an injury, the patrol officer would go to the accident.

Meanwhile, a traffic officer could be running “radar” to monitor for speeders during the same time but wouldn’t be called to the accident. Now they will be called, freeing the patrol officer to respond to the domestic violence incident.

He said the majority of the department’s work lies with patrol officers, who put their lives on the line every day, but also added that doesn’t take away from others who also are doing important duties.

“What I heard to my face is folks really appreciate the direction we are going,” Pelletier said.

In response to a question from Rodrigues about police leadership vacancies and staffing shortages, Pelletier said, without going into detail, that “we collapsed some positions. We’d like to fill them back at some point.”

Pelletier said they are looking to promote officers to those higher positions.

Other work that has been done since he took the helm includes a staffing study that is in progress, Pelletier said.

With the study, the department will be able to see what calls for services are like in certain areas and ensure the right officers are in the right places. He said a study was done “years ago” and he wanted to get a current picture.

The newly created Maui Police Department Multicultural Advisory Counsel, which includes representatives of disenfranchised members of the community, has also had two meetings, Pelletier said. Another outreach initiative is the MPD First Tuesday “Let’s Talk Story” to meet with the community.

He has also shortened the length of time it takes to go through the police academy.

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

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