Turmoil grips Kauai police
Low morale and divisiveness prompt an unprecedented Council inquiry
LIHUE » The Kauai County Council is investigating the Garden Isle's police department, Chief K.C. Lum, and the Kauai Police Commission, in an unprecedented move that Lum supporters call politically motivated retaliation.
The council voted unanimously Thursday to authorize the investigation, citing low morale, numerous civilian complaints, possible lawsuits, budget problems and more. It is the first time the council has used their investigative powers, which are allowed under the Kauai County Charter.
The council gave themselves the right to subpoena witnesses, hire staff, and hold hearings, both in public and private, to investigate reported problems of the Garden Isle's police force, which has 128 officers.
According to the council's resolution, the investigation would also delve into personnel matters, specifically as they involve federal funding.
Council members and the chairman of the police union testified that Lum is to blame for horrible morale, an increase in civilian complaints and union grievances, as well as a budget overrun of more than $300,000 last year. They criticized the police commission for a lack of oversight of the chief and for poor response to civilian complaints and grievances.
The investigation is something the chief and the commission have refused to do, despite repeated requests and funding for an appraisal, they said.
Lum would not comment on the council's action.
Sources inside the department who support the chief said the problems within KPD boil down to a power struggle between Lum and Assistant Chief Clayton Arinaga, who was put on administrative leave last week.
Lum supporters, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said Arinaga, as well as other ranking officers within the department and councilmembers, have done everything in their power to make the chief look bad and to circumvent his power since Lum became chief in October 2004.
The reasons for Arinaga's suspension have not been made public, but in response to questions about it, Lum put out a press release stating that "the department will not tolerate misconduct by our department employees, and will take appropriate action when warranted."
"This investigation (of Assistant Chief Clayton Arinaga) is for an incident that happened five years ago. Is it, maybe, retaliation?"
Bill "Kaipo" Asing
Kauai Council chairman
Council Chairman Bill "Kaipo" Asing said the suspension of Arinaga was politically motivated.
"This investigation is for an incident that happened five years ago," Asing said. "Is it, maybe, retaliation?"
Lum supporters counter that the council investigation is retaliation for the suspension of Arinaga.
The polarization between supporters of Lum and Arinaga is so complete that officers are beginning to fear for their own safety from each other, councilmembers said.
"Officers in blue are more afraid of other officers in blue than the ice addict in the street," said Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho. "It jeopardizes ... the community as well."
Bryson Ponce, chairman of the Kauai branch of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, told the council, "I could fill the room with 90 cops that are unhappy.
"Over the past year, I've seen morale drop to rock bottom."
Ponce said the police commission, a volunteer board created to provide direct oversight to the chief and investigate civilian complaints, "is a joke. There are problems and they know it."
The union has repeatedly brought up grievances to the commission, only to be ignored, Ponce continued.
"We fully support this investigation into the police department," Ponce said, adding that Lum and the commission "haven't been acting with the best interests of our membership."
Police Commission Chairman Michael Ching refused to comment.
Councilmembers also discussed their frustration with being ignored by both the commission and the chief. They said they have repeatedly asked for information from the chief, only to be ignored.
"Without the investigation, we'll deteriorate to the point where (KPD) won't function," said Councilman Mel Rapozo. "No one seems to care enough to do something."