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Senate Committee Votes Against Confirming Public Safety Director

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Nolan Espinda, Gov. David Ige’s nominee to head the state Department of Public Safety, won’t get the backing of a key legislative committee.

The Senate Committeeon Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs voted unanimously today not to recommend Espinda return as head of the department.

Recent, high-profile events such as the Maui jail riot and two fatal shootings involving department personnel have clouded the director’s confirmation.

Espinda has been head of the department since 2015, and his continued tenure is in jeopardy.

In talking to reporters after the hearing, Espinda says he wasn’t surprised by the outcome. Still he believes the process has been a fair one.

“We have accomplished a lot in the last four years. I really think that continuity going forward will be really helpful to having the department achieve significant advances in the coming years. Those advances include many of the things I’ve bought up in my testimony,” says Espinda. “And I’m humbled by the fact that so much constructive criticism was provided with all of that in mind if given the opportunity, I purely and genuinely will try to address those situations.”

Governor David Ige is standing by his public safety chief. In an emailed statement to HPR, Gov. Ige says he continues to believe that Espinda is the best person to serve as head of the agency.

"Under his leadership, we have made significant progress in many areas, including the reduction in overtime, increased inmate visitation hours, increased services to inmates awaiting parole, and increased focus on offender re-entry services," says Ige, "I know that Senators will look at his complete record and see that he is well qualified to serve another term."

The full Senate will have the final say next week on whether to confirm the embattled director. But without the committee’s support, Espinda’s confirmation is uncertain.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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