State of Hawaii

Isle police fear lure
of new airport jobs

Federal security jobs will pay better
than some police positions

By Tony Sommer and Rod Thompson |

Neighbor isle police officials are worried that the higher pay and lesser workloads offered by the new federal Transportation Security Administration will attract officers from county ranks.

Kauai Police Chief George Freitas said he is "extremely concerned" that the new TSA, which will handle airport security starting later this year, will hire away officers from his already thin force.

The pay being offered by the TSA in many cases will exceed that paid by all county police departments.

"We assume they're going to be looking for the best people in the state, and we like to think the best people already are police officers," Freitas said. "All of the police chiefs are very concerned about the feds stealing our best officers."

The TSA will create about 20 security positions on Kauai, but Freitas is more concerned that the pay will be so attractive that Kauai police officers may be willing to move to other islands to accept TSA jobs.

In addition to a large number of administrative personnel, TSA is hiring 600 people as security officers at island airports.

The TSA personnel will begin replacing security guards from Wackenhut in October.

TSA will pay a base salary ranging from $23,000 to $35,000 plus a 25 percent bonus because Hawaii is a high-cost area. The bonus will not be subject to federal income tax. That means the pay will range from $28,570 to $43,750, a portion of which is nontaxable. Supervisory positions will pay more.

In comparison, pay for police patrolmen in Hawaii ranges from $31,000 starting pay to $45,000 for more experienced officers.

"It's my experienced officers I'm most concerned about losing," Freitas said. "If you have a family to support, it's pretty hard to turn down a pay raise."

The Big Island is an example of what could happen if county police find federal airport jobs enticing.

In July, Chief James Correa retired from his position, which was paying $75,516 per year, to take the TSA security director job for the Kona and Hilo airports, paying about $100,000.

Still, Hawaii County Police Major Charles Chai said the department is not concerned about losing further personnel because no other officers of any rank have expressed an interest in the federal jobs.

In the long run, however, there is a concern because county salaries are lower than at other agencies and in other jurisdictions, Chai said.

Even before the airport jobs became a factor, it was already known mainland police

departments were attracting police from Hawaii with higher pay.

Despite that, Hawaii County has lost "less than a dozen" officers in the past three years, just a bit higher than normal attrition, Chai said.

Of 400 authorized sworn policing positions in the department, 385 are now filled, although 12 of those are recruits who are not yet doing active policing, Chai said.

On Maui, Deputy Police Chief Kekuhaupio Akana said he expects the TSA will affect recruitment and retention of personnel, but he is unsure about the degree of impact. He said the Maui Police Department has not experienced any effect yet.

Starting annual pay for a Maui police recruit is $34,308. The pay rises to $36,072 in a year. The police chief earns $83,000 annually.

The police concerns over the TSA are apparently not shared on Oahu.

The Honolulu Police Department loses about 50 officers to retirement every year. Chief Lee Donohue said he expects that number to go to as high as 85 as officers pursue other employment opportunities, including TSA jobs.

But he said he does not expect that to hurt the department because of stepped-up HPD recruitment.

For Kauai, Freitas said the TSA jobs come at a time when vacancies at the department are at their highest level since he became chief in 1995.

The KPD has 16 vacancies on a force with an authorized strength of 146 officers. In past years it has ranged from six to 12 vacancies.

"I can't remember it being this high," Freitas said. "Our

response has been to slow down promotions to keep as many patrolmen on the road as possible, but that makes the TSA jobs even more attractive to the patrolmen who should already have made senior patrolman or sergeant."

The Big Isle's Chai noted, however, that there are also some negatives to the airport jobs. An officer may have to move himself and his family to the other side of the island.

Although the scope of the federal jobs is a lot smaller than a police assignment - covering an airport instead of an entire district - that can mean fewer challenges, Chai said. Translation: The airport jobs may be boring.

"The opportunities are greater with us," he said.

Star-Bulletin reporters Gary T. Kubota and Nelson Daranciang contributed to this report.

State of Hawaii
Hawaii County Police Department
Honolulu Police Department
Kauai County Police Department
Maui County Police Department

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