Police board asks, What's going on?
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau
By Jan TenBruggencate
LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Kaua'i Police Commission members will ask the County Council to report on the status of the council's threatened investigation of the police department, commissioners said yesterday.
Commissioners, who are charged under the county charter with overseeing the department, have made the proposed council investigation a permanent fixture on commission agendas "so we don't forget what's going on," said Commission chairwoman Carol Furtado.
Twenty-five people attended yesterday's commission meeting, most of them police officers. Most such meetings are more sparsely attended, but increasing numbers of officers have begun sitting in on meetings to indicate their concern over the department's troubles. None formally addressed the commission yesterday, but commission members held conversations with officers during breaks.
The troubled police department faces significant internal problems, potentially expensive claims against the county, a record number of outstanding union grievances and other issues. Council members say they intend to review those issues and more in an investigation, which the panel is permitted to conduct under the county charter.
But the council's probe has been slow in getting started. Council members have been talking about it for more than a year, and recently passed a resolution setting up the Committee of the Whole as its investigative committee. But the seven members of the council, all of whom face re-election in eight months, have not yet determined how they will proceed, who they will hire as primary investigator, or how big a budget they will authorize.
Furtado expressed the Commission's frustration with the lingering specter of a political investigation, and received the commission's approval to "ask the council for an update ... so we don't get rumor, and we get actual facts."
A key figure is Police Chief King Chi Lum, known by the initials K.C. Some members of the council have argued that he is not up to the challenge of running a divided department, but while Lum acknowledges his department has serious problems, he insists they're not as bad as other county officials make out. Lum, 57, was hired in September 2004 at an annual salary of $75,000.
Lum is a 24-year veteran of the force. One of the criticisms against him is that he lacks management experience. Lum's highest rank before being selected as chief was lieutenant, though he spent a year as acting commander of the department's Administrative and Technical Bureau.
His former beat partner, retired police officer Wilfred Ihu, who served as interim chief and deputy chief, said he does not consider Lum to be a strong leader.
Kaua'i County Councilman Jimmy Tokioka said the chief has openly expressed uncertainty about how to patch up a broken department.
"He's come to us and said, 'I don't know what's going on. People are talking behind my back. I don't know what to do.' And this is in the open," Tokioka said.
Lum said that constant criticism by county political figures, who invite disgruntled police officers to bring them internal departmental problems, is caustic to the department.
When asked if he believes his authority is being undercut by forces outside and within the police department, Lum said: "I have no proof of it, but intuitively, yes."
His approach to handling the problem is to try to bring the problems back into the department, so they can be handled in-house. He prefers not to discuss specific situations. A typical response came yesterday, when commissioners expressed frustration about delays in receiving crime statistics. Rather than explaining the reasons for delays, he told Furtado simply, "That is an internal matter that I will take care of."
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at firstname.lastname@example.org.