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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 15, 2005

Mayor: No guns for liquor inspectors

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer


Mayor Mufi Hannemann called a proposal to allow Honolulu Liquor Commission investigators to carry firearms "ill advised" and said yesterday that his administration should have been consulted about the matter earlier.

The Police Department also came out against the proposal, and City Councilman Charles Djou said he is having his staff research legislation that could stop Liquor Commission officials from arming its investigators.

Liquor Commission Administrator Wallace Weatherwax proposed the idea to commissioners on Tuesday, arguing that the increasingly dangerous situations in bars, nightclubs and even liquor stores make a case for giving guns to its investigators. The commission postponed a decision.

But Hannemann said this is not the time for the commission to make such a move, not when commissioners are working up a strategic plan to improve the embattled agency.

"While I am concerned about the safety of liquor inspectors, in fact, of all city employees, I cannot condone Administrator Weatherwax's position that inspectors should be armed," Hannemann said.

"We do not approve weapons training for liquor inspectors at this time," he said.

Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the department does not support arming Liquor Commission investigators.

Weatherwax has said he believes that the decision would go through the city administration and the City Council for their consideration.

Regardless, Djou said he would turn to legislation if necessary to block approval.

Djou is chairman of the City Council's executive matters and legal affairs committee. He said his district — Hawai'i Kai to Waikiki — includes more liquor-selling businesses than any other.

He wants to see reforms to prevent future problems. "The problem isn't lack of guns; the problem is that we have mismanagement and corruption," he said.

In recent years, the commission has been plagued by allegations of deep-seated corruption, ethical inquiries, a city audit that blasted management and a continuing federal investigation.

Eight former investigators were found guilty of charges of racketeering, bribery, extortion and related charges for accepting bribes from owners and workers of hostess bars and strip clubs in 2000 and 2001.

The commission oversees nearly 1,400 bars, clubs, restaurants and other businesses that sell liquor. It gets its money — $3.7 million budgeted this year — from those it licenses and fines paid by those businesses.

Investigator Barry Batts, who said he started on the job in February, wrote to The Advertiser to say that he was assaulted on the job last week in Kalihi and looks at weapons as a tool the investigators need to have.

"Being a retired noncommissioned officer from the United States Army, I cannot understand the politics that are involved in providing the right equipment so that all investigators can perform their duties in a safe and effective manner," he said.

"Every night as an investigator, I go out concerned about myself and the rest of the investigators' safety due to the patrons at the premises that we have to inspect," Batts wrote.

Weatherwax was unavailable for further comment yesterday. But he provided reports from investigators and others detailing some of the dangers they face in nightly rounds through the bars and nightclubs and other liquor-serving establishments.

In one report, an investigator reported performing a "routine premises check" at a club with other investigators shortly after midnight on Sept. 24, 2004, and witnessing a fight begin between two customers.

Investigator Wayne Akina, formerly of the Honolulu Police Department, described how he first thought one man pulled a knife — but then he saw a gun.

Akina wrote: "He pulled the butt handle out of his pocket and a 9 mm handgun appeared. He then held the gun on the side of his right leg and kept yelling at the victim."

Akina continued: "My adrenaline was pumping, and feeling defenseless, I just couldn't comprehend on what to do. My first reaction was to pull out my 9 mm gun and I could feel my hands searching aimlessly for my holster."

But as a liquor investigator, he isn't allowed to carry a firearm.

The agency's supervising investigator for enforcement, Allan Gaylord, said such scenes are typical for its 16 investigators.

Still, readers responding to an informal Advertiser online poll were overwhelmingly against the idea of giving firearms to the investigators, and some sent comments that showed how they felt.

"By all means, give them guns," said Donald L. Wier, of Wai'anae. "It should make their jobs of extortion easier."