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Retiring officers fear changes are lowering MPD standards

Police chief says moves made for efficiency, greater focus on patrol

Police Chief John Pelletier

Three veteran high-ranking Maui Police Department officers say their sudden retirements were spurred by changes implemented by new Police Chief John Pelletier, who said he would “fillet the first one” who was insubordinate.

Now-retired Assistant Chief Clyde Holokai, Capt. Ricky Uedoi and Lt. William Hankins said changes, including shortening the police recruit academy to five and a half months, are lowering standards and jeopardizing the safety of officers and the public.

“My question to the community is quite simple. When you call 911, what kind of officer do you want to show up at your door?” said Hankins, who retired March 1 after nearly 31 years at MPD. “The one with the most qualifications and best training possible or the officer with minimum qualifications that was rushed through an academy in five and a half months to get bodies on the road? That’s scary. The people of Maui County deserve better from this department and this chief and deputy.”

“Standards are dropping” from training that used to be higher than the national standard, said Holokai, who instructed officers in arrest and defense tactics for 20 years and “wrote the book” on current police tactics.

He and others said they have seen morale plummet since Pelletier became chief.

Now retired Lt. William Hankins

“We care about the department,” said Holokai, who was third in command when he retired March 1 after a 28-year police career. “We’re seeing our people walking around in a daze, seeing our people break down in tears. We have many people who are scared, cops that are scared when they’re working. They shouldn’t be walking on eggshells.”

Pelletier responded that standards aren’t being lowered and said those who left MPD “are not the best barometers for the morale of this agency.”

“I think morale is pretty amazing,” he said. “There’s always going to be folks that aren’t happy no matter where you are. You can’t do everything for everyone. But I know that there’s some folks that have gone out of their way to tell us the job that we’re doing is incredible.”

In a patrol comment box at the Kihei Police Station, an officer wrote in early March that “morale is high and has never been higher,” Pelletier said.

REASSIGNING CAPTAINS

Now-retired Capt. Ricky Uedoi

Holokai, Uedoi and Hankins, whose combined years of service totaled nearly 90 years, said they had planned to continue working and had been willing to give the new chief a chance. They said they were speaking up for current officers who are afraid of repercussions.

At a command staff meeting at the Wailuku Police Station on Dec. 17, two days after Pelletier was sworn in, he said he wanted to “invest in our people, our most precious resource.”

Then Pelletier went on to say, “So, let me make it real clear. I’m the administration. We know this, OK. You all are the administration through me … ,” according to a recording of the meeting provided to The Maui News.

“I’m giving everybody in this room a lawful order,” Pelletier said. “You have to support the administration. You have to, OK. I will not tolerate insubordination. I understand where it falls in codes of conduct and I understand how severe it can be. And anybody that is grossly insubordinate will not leave in good standing. I will not have it. I just won’t. I will not have individuals or groups undermining the administration.

“That’s all I’m going to say on it. I think everybody knows exactly what I’m saying. But please do not be the one I make the example of first because I will fillet the first one. And then everybody will understand very quickly what I mean.”

Now-retired Assistant Chief Clyde Holokai

An officer who isn’t in good standing when leaving MPD wouldn’t receive full retirement and credit for unused sick leave, Holokai said.

At the same meeting, Pelletier reassigned all but one of nine captains. Uedoi, a 29-year veteran, was moved from heading the Internal Affairs Section to the Molokai Patrol Division.

When Uedoi said he disagreed with his assignment, Pelletier responded, “I don’t care” before he and Deputy Chief Charles Hank III told Uedoi they would talk after the meeting.

Uedoi said he asked how long the Molokai assignment would be, and Pelletier leaned forward and held up two fingers toward Uedoi while saying, “two years.”

Uedoi, who was second in seniority among captains, spent a year on Molokai in 2015 when he was promoted. He decided to retire Feb. 1 rather than return to Molokai and be away from his family, including his son, a high school sophomore.

“He could have assigned me any other position, I probably still would be working today,” Uedoi said.

MPD policy says “police officers with the least grade seniority are transferred to fill positions” in outside districts including Lanai, Hana and Molokai, and that has been done traditionally, Holokai said.

“I think it’s fair to say I’m not necessarily traditional,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier said captains, who are civil service employees, have acknowledged they are “at will” employees who “can be transferred or rotated to another assignment at any time.”

Holokai, who was assistant chief in charge of the Investigative Services Bureau, was moved to head the Uniformed Services Bureau. He said the Vice Division captain, who had vice experience as an officer, sergeant and lieutenant, was transferred to the Wailuku Patrol Division and replaced with a captain who had never worked in vice.

Pelletier said he made it clear why he did that.

“So when I made those moves, I put my senior assistant chief and my senior captains in the most important critical area at the time, which is patrol,” he said. “So I don’t understand why that would even be an issue when everybody knows you are ‘at will.’ “

With no captain or lieutenant assigned to Molokai, the highest ranking officer there is a sergeant.

Pelletier said he made the comments about insubordination because when he and Hank took office, “there were those that didn’t want us here.”

“Some folks wanted to conspire, work hard and come up with plots and strategies, votes of no confidence and wanted to actually erode public safety,” Pelletier said. “There were folks in leadership positions that I was told from multiple sources that wanted to compromise public safety and endanger people in order to stop this agency from working. And so I made it very clear that we weren’t going to let that happen.”

He said insubordination is a violation of the police code of conduct.

“And gross insubordination’s not going to be tolerated,” Pelletier said. “And we’re going to cut that out where we see it. I’m not going to blow up an entire department because of it. But if we have to cut that out so this department can thrive — like you would with cancer, we’re going to cut that out.

“The citizens of this county for a long time have felt this department doesn’t care about them. And so if you’re going to treat the chief of police in the manner that I just described, how does the average citizen on a car stop feel? So hundred percent we’re going to cut out those that would harm the public.”

Holokai said Pelletier may have gotten the wrong impression about two meetings attended by captains and other ranking officers before Pelletier arrived on Maui. “Yes, people were venting,” Holokai said. “These are the guys that have devoted the most for the department. They bleed blue.”

He said the most said in one meeting was “he cannot run this department without us, he needs us.”

“There was no planning, there was no conspiring,” Holokai said.

When they became police officers, Holokai and Hankins said they took oaths to serve.

“You don’t swear to be loyal to the person, you swear to be loyal to the department, to the community,” Holokai said. “That’s the police officer’s oath that we swear to.”

“There’s never been a chief, in my 30 years, that has ordered you to support the administration or else,” Hankins said. “They have always respected your right to disagree.”

With Pelletier and Hank, “if they don’t like it, they change it,” Hankins said.

He said he wasn’t consulted on changes, including cutting DUI training for recruits in half from 48 to 24 hours, eliminating an introduction to drugged driving, moot court and practice hours.

“That’s not leadership,” Hankins said. “That’s not transparency.”

SHUFFLING UNITS, CHANGING TRAINING

According to the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers union, Pelletier “collapsed” the Community Relations Section and Gambling/Morals Unit in the Vice Division without consulting with the union. The union contract requires it be notified of any proposed changes to working conditions in writing 30 days before the start date.

Pelletier said the six officers from those units were transferred to patrol.

“I needed to get an immediate Band-Aid on the fact that we’re so short,” he said.

He said the move was part of “reorganizing the department to be as effective as we possibly can” with 25 percent of the department’s 400 positions for police officers unfilled as of Jan. 31.

Those units may or may not be reinstated, Pelletier said.

Holokai said the transfers from the two units resulted in a net gain of zero Wailuku patrol officers because two officers were transferred to the Receiving Desk and one was sent back to vice on special assignment. The other three officers, a lieutenant and two sergeants, are in supervisory positions, Holokai said.

Pelletier disputed that, saying the Receiving Desk, where arrested people are processed, supports patrol and the three supervisors were assigned to patrol. “They all went to specifically support the department’s necessary function, which is patrol,” Pelletier said.

Holokai said he had planned to temporarily rotate community policing and Crime Reduction Unit officers into patrol to help with shortages, particularly in Wailuku, where officers have been working 12-hour shifts. But the Crime Reduction Unit, which had been under his command, was transferred to the Vice Division, Holokai said. “I started getting my legs cut out from under me,” he said.

Holokai said the chief proposed dropping staffing below the 12-officer minimum in the Wailuku district by having one officer cover two beats. The minimum staffing was determined by the County Council when it authorized the positions, in part based on population growth in the district, which includes Kahului and Upcountry, Holokai said.

Pelletier said the department was doing a staffing study and could move district boundaries.

“We’re going to do some intelligence-led policing to help us determine that,” he said. “But we’re not going to compromise officer safety.”

Before he became chief, the recruit academy had been shortened from nine to six months. Pelletier shortened it even more to five and a half months to be “consistent with the national average.”

“We did not lower standards,” Pelletier said. “We made it more efficient.”

He said some training, including in impaired driving, will become part of the field training after recruits graduate and are paired with experienced officers on the road. Instead of learning to make DUI arrests in a “sterile environment” with “role players” in the academy, Pelletier said new officers will work at DUI checkpoints to make the arrests and “get real world experience.”

Hankins, who was traffic commander for the past three years, said the alcohol labs, which were eliminated from the academy, consist of “actual live drinkers, not scripted actors” who undergo field sobriety testing by recruits. The labs are part of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration training done nationwide, Hankins said.

“By not following this program, court cases will be jeopardized and officers may not be able to become certified” in administering standardized field sobriety testing, he said.

He said an intoxication checkpoint “is not a training ground” to learn how to do the testing.

“If they make a mistake or misinterpret the clues or indicators, they could mistakenly arrest a sober driver — or worse, allow a drunk driver to drive off and kill someone,” Hankins said.

He said federal grants that pay for intoxication checkpoints are “very strict” and allow only a certain number of officers who are certified on scene.

“Saying the recruits who are now officers are going to learn DUI detection at an intoxication checkpoint is like saying, ‘Here’s your gun, let’s skip the range and take you to a live gunfight to learn,’ “ Hankins said.

“Chief is clueless as to the impaired driving problem and how to address it in Hawaii,” he said. “He has insulted every person who has lost a loved one due to impaired driving by failing to listen to the subject matter experts at MPD. This is one of the biggest reasons I retired — no respect from the chief’s office and it’s a slap in the face to victims’ families. I cannot and will not sit quietly while I know this chief is unnecessarily placing lives at risk with his own made-up training program for impaired driving.”

Holokai said training hours also were cut in arrest and defense tactics, which he considers the most important class for recruits.

With the training reduced to two hours a day and not every day, most of the sessions will be taken up by 45-minute warmup and cooldown periods, leaving about a half-hour for teaching and practicing maneuvers that could be used to bring situations under control and prevent them from escalating, Holokai said.

“You’re going to get into hand-to-hand confrontations more than a shooting,” he said. “We don’t want to put our officers in harm’s way, but that’s the job. We take inherent risks to protect people. But now even the training is being cut.”

The training also helps unify recruit class members, as police learned one year when such training was decreased, Holokai said.

“There’s lessons that are taught in the dojo that are carried out into their everyday work environment,” he said. “Put them in traumatic situations and people bond over that. That becomes so very important when they’re out there.”

While Crisis Intervention Training to help deal with people in mental health crises was added to the recruit training, Holokai said “the vast majority of the people we encounter and have use-of-force issues with are not mentally ill.”

Speaking generally about the changes in recruit training, Pelletier said: “Just because we’ve always done something doesn’t make it the best way to do it. We want Maui PD to be the finest agency possible and this to be the safest community.”

By retiring in the first half of the year, the officers are losing a 2.5 percent retirement increase that they would have received in July if they had retired at the end of last year.

Of the 13 retirements last year, only one — that of Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu in May — occurred in the first half of the year.

“Nobody retires between January and June,” Hankins said. “The only people who retire are people who need to get the hell out to get away from what’s going on.”

Hankins, Uedoi and Holokai said no one asked what they could do to persuade them to stay.

“We’re not disgruntled. We’re disappointed,” Hankins said. “And we’re disappointed that the home we’ve known for the last 30-plus years doesn’t want us there.

“They took everything we’ve built and turned it around to a place that we’re not welcome anymore.”

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

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