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Survey: One-third of Maui officers considering leaving

SHOPO members give chief negative ratings, cite issues with morale and staffing

A survey of 158 Maui Chapter SHOPO members, including officers, sergeants and lieutenants, found that more than a third of Maui Police Department officers are considering leaving. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

More than one-third of Maui Police Department officers are considering leaving the department in the next two years, with low morale and low pay identified as top reasons, according to a survey commissioned by the Maui Chapter of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.

The nearly 160 officers responding to the survey gave overall negative ratings to Police Chief John Pelletier in 12 of 13 categories. Asked how well Pelletier had done in “fostering strong morale,” 62 percent of officers responded “not very well” or “not well at all.”

The ratings were part of an initial assessment of Pelletier, who has been in the job for six months.

During that period, the staffing rate for MPD officers has remained at 75 percent, with 300 of the 400 officer positions filled at the end of May for an increase of one officer from the 299 officers employed at the end of December.

So far this year, at least six ranking officers have retired and two others are set to retire at the end of this month.

Pelletier

“It is clear that our staffing crisis will worsen unless bold action is taken to retain and recruit officers and that includes increased pay and improved working conditions,” said Sgt. Nick Krau, Maui chapter chairperson and SHOPO state board member. “It is also clear that Maui police officers are looking for leadership and collaboration from Chief Pelletier.

“These results should be a wake-up call to elected officials, the Police Commission and the chief that the time to act is now if we are to preserve our crime-fighting capabilities.”

The survey was conducted from April 12 to 22 to understand officers’ concerns and to identify solutions to the “dire staffing crisis,” according to SHOPO. The survey drew responses from 158 Maui Chapter SHOPO members, including officers, sergeants and lieutenants. Its results were released Tuesday by SHOPO.

Asked to rate the morale level at MPD on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, the average rating was 4.1 percent.

“There appears to be no plan or unity between the higher ups,” one officer wrote in describing morale issues in the department. “The aloha is gone. The family feeling coming to work is gone.”

Krau

Another officer said there were “a lot of unknowns” since Pelletier became chief. “I think change is good if it is done so with communication, not only verbally but also written,” the officer wrote. “The action, the change and the words being said should match.”

Officers said morale was affected by having to work more because of the officer shortage, “minimal to nonexistent” opportunities for advancement and Pelletier’s actions that weren’t in compliance with the SHOPO bargaining agreement.

Soon after becoming chief, Pelletier “collapsed” the Community Relations Section and Gambling/Morals Unit of the Vice Division, transferring those six officers to Receiving Desk and patrol positions without notifying the union, as is required in the union contract, according to SHOPO. The union said the officers were later transferred back to the positions.

“There is also a group of officers that are being ‘groomed’ by the Chief and Deputy Chief causing other officers to feel left out and/or not part of a special group of officers receiving special treatment,” another officer commented.

“I love this community and I love this department and wish only the best for both,” an officer wrote. “I never once imagined leaving MPD … But now with the state of the department, I will jump at my first opportunity.”

Of the officers responding, 33.95 percent said they were considering leaving MPD in the next two years, either by retiring, going to another agency or leaving the profession. Morale issues were a top reason. Another 43.83 percent said they planned to stay for now.

Asked if they felt their opinion was valued by MPD, nearly 52 percent of officers answered no.

Pelletier received 58.2 percent negative ratings (“not very well” or “not well at all”) from officers asked how well he was “in touch with the day-to-day aspects of the job” for officers, sergeants and lieutenants. He received 56 percent negative ratings in “creating trust with front-line officers.”

In the quality of being “fair and transparent in dealing with disputes,” 17.1 percent rated Pelletier favorably while 52.5 percent rated him negatively.

The most favorable ratings (“very well” and “somewhat well”) for Pelletier were 42.4 percent for being “an advocate for front-line officers.” He received 35.5 percent negative ratings in that category.

Members who took the survey identified low pay, poor equipment, long working hours, lack of communication from the chief and low morale as issues that need to be addressed.

Top priorities for retaining officers were better pay, a more flexible work schedule and homebuying assistance.

Asked if they felt patrol staffing was adequate to provide a swift response to 911 calls, 64 percent of officers said no and 20 percent said yes. Thirty-nine percent of officers said they had experienced waiting a significant amount of time for backup to arrive, while 38 percent said they hadn’t.

“It is clear that Maui officers are disillusioned with the current status of the department,” Krau said. “This survey is a helpful tool so that their voices can be heard and also to identify areas needed for improvement. We have an opportunity to address this staffing and morale crisis to keep officers here. SHOPO is fully committed to working with the chief and county officials to do just that.”

Asked if MPD administration wanted to comment on the survey, police spokeswoman Alana Pico said Pelletier was off island Tuesday but would be available today.

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

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