Sunday, May 27, 2001

Big isle police prepare
team to handle
dangerous situations

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> When Big Island police had to subdue a man with several knives barricaded in a house in Waimea in January, one of the officers suffered a gash on the head in the process.

"We have training in securing a site, but when we have to make an entry, that can be dicey," said Waimea's acting Captain Donald Watson.

Chief James Correa cited the wound to the officer as the kind of thing the department hopes to avoid by creating a Special Response Team, often called a SWAT team in other jurisdictions.

The team consists of volunteers from within the department who go about their regular duties, such as patrol or juvenile aid, until needed as a unit. Thirteen officers were assigned to the team in December. About a dozen more are being screened for five remaining slots.

Since the team members receive their normal pay for their normal duties, no extra funding was needed for salaries. Money for equipment and training came from asset forfeitures, such as drug money.

With special training and equipment, the department hopes to reduce injuries, Correa said.

Major Harry Kubojiri, in charge of the team, says a national study showed fewer shots are fired when special teams respond to a situation compared to when non-tactical officers respond.

Hawaii County police are the last in the state to establish such a team.

Preparation for it began three years ago at the direction of then-Chief Wayne Carvalho, Kubojiri said.

Carvalho insisted on a psychological evaluation of volunteers, Kubojiri said.

That caused concern for the police union, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, which feared that an officer not doing well on the team psychological evaluation would be stigmatized in his or her regular police work, Kubojiri said.

The solution came from a consultant in such tests, then working for the Pima County (Arizona) Sheriff's Department.

Police have normal, everyday stresses, the consultant said. The psychological evaluation deal only with how officers respond to additional team stresses and therefore doesn't reflect on their normal duties.

Other counties don't use psychological evaluations but have other strict screening methods, Kubojiri said.

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