Sheriff denounces his boss
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
State Sheriff Frank Dela Rosa retires today, but he's not going quietly.
In a video conference address last week to commanders in the Sheriff Division, Dela Rosa blasted his superiors in the state Department of Public Safety for "reckless and negligent" leadership that he said has brought the division "perilously close to operational disaster."
Sheriffs provide security at the state Capitol, courthouses and other state facilities around the Islands and have primary responsibility for serving tens of thousands of outstanding arrest warrants issued by the courts and parole and probation agencies.
Dela Rosa, who became a deputy sheriff in 1982, was named to head the division last May.
Department of Public Safety Director Clayton Frank said he was taken aback by the harsh tenor of Dela Rosa's comments but ascribed them to frustration over the same budgetary constraints afflicting all state agencies.
"It's unfortunate the way he wrote it," Frank said. "But it's understandable that you have a frustrated person that wants to do things but the budget doesn't allow it."
Dela Rosa declined immediate comment beyond his Feb. 17 video conference remarks, a written copy of which was obtained by The Advertiser.
In his address, he accused department officials of "manipulating" funding, using money from the Sheriff Division for other purposes, and making other management decisions he characterized as poor.
"Our personnel have been demoralized as a direct result of these antics, but have remained strong in character and continue to perform in splendid fashion considering the upheavals brought on by the administration of this department's leadership," he said.
Frank said rejected Dela Rosa's claims that numerous positions have been eliminated. He said the deputy sheriff workforce remains unchanged at 280 positions, sergeant positions have not been reduced, and clerical jobs that were cut were already vacant and couldn't be filled because of budget shortfalls.
Nineteen security officers who worked at the perimeters of the Hawai'i State Hospital and other sites were eliminated to save money, and that work is now being performed by private guards, according to Frank.
The Legislature authorized six new positions for warrant work but those positions have been frozen because of budget problems, he said.
To fill the jobs, "we would have to run a new recruit class, which takes six months, so it's best right now to freeze those positions," he said.
Other "serious oversights" cited by Dela Rosa include:
• Failure to beef up the warrant squad, a move recommended by the Legislature and a state task force to reduce the huge backlog of stale and dormant arrest warrants in sheriffs' files.
• Expired warranties on armored vests.
• Delays in staffing deputy sheriff positions at the new Kapolei Judiciary complex, due to open next month.
• Delays in the readiness of a new $700,000 mobile command center now stored in a waterfront warehouse.
Frank said replacement of aging armored vests was delayed by problems in the procurement process and by the inability of vendors to fill the needs of a small agency like Hawai'i sheriff's office when much larger orders were being filled for mainland law enforcement agencies.
Staffing at the Kapolei courthouse couldn't be arranged because of delays in the facility's opening, the director said. When a firm opening date was set, there wasn't enough time to hire and train new recruits, so those positions will be filled by volunteer deputies and short-term "89-day" employees who remain on the state payroll for less than 90 days and aren't eligible for pensions and other benefits, Frank said.
In the meantime, the department will ask the Legislature to approve and fund 21 new deputy positions for Kapolei.
The mobile command center was funded with federal grants and upkeep of the 48-foot-long trailer has been financed with money from forfeited criminal assets, so no taxpayer dollars are involved, according to Frank.
If an emergency does arise, the trailer can be pulled from storage and put into use, said Frank and James Propotnick, deputy director of the Law Enforcement Division in the Public Safety Department.
"I think that the short period of time that Frank (Dela Rosa) has been sheriff ... has been a very tumultuous time," Frank said.
However, Dela Rosa was correct when he said in his remarks last week that Sheriff Division personnel have to work harder and smarter, according to Frank.
"They have to work smarter. They have to work better," he said.
"But in terms of not getting the (proper) support from us, I would say that's contrary to what we did or tried to do with them."
AUDIT IN PROGRESS
State Auditor Marion Higa is conducting an audit of the Department of Public Safety at the Legislature's request. Higa said she does not know when the report will be completed.
State Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), chairman of the Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee, said he intends to hold a hearing "soon" about possible problems in the Public Safety Department and Sheriff Division.
Shown Dela Rosa's remarks, Espero said some of the complaints grew out of the shortage of money, but others appear to be the result of "bad decision making."
"Problems begin at the top," Espero said.
State Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-4th (Puna-Pāhoa), chairwoman of the House Public Safety Committee, said she was unaware of the specific issues raised by Dela Rosa.
"I am aware that the department has serious management problems that I'm trying to address legislatively," Hanohano said.