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Morale is steadily decreasing at Maui Police Department, SHOPO survey finds

Casey Harlow / HPR

Morale has steadily been decreasing within the ranks of the Maui Police Department.

The State of Hawaiʻi Organization of Police Officers, which represents officers statewide, surveyed MPD members, finding that one-third of officers are considering leaving within the next two years.

The department already has a deficit of 100 sworn officers, and if that continues, SHOPO Maui Chapter Chair Nick Krau said MPD could head toward a "public safety crisis."

“If we lose another 100 officers, we're down to 50% staffing,” Krau said Wednesday. “Right now, we're losing officers faster than we can hire them. So, if that trend continues, we're going to be at a very critical public safety crisis, and that seems to be the direction that we're heading.”

About 60% of MPD SHOPO members responded to the anonymous third-party study. Officers were asked to score morale scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. The average score of respondents was a 4.

And what’s to blame? Over 60% of respondents pointed to leadership, many specifically stating that a lack of communication and transparency with command staff is a contributor.

FILE - John Pelletier at a Maui Police Commission meeting in 2021.
Maui Police Commission
FILE - John Pelletier at a Maui Police Commission meeting in 2021.

MPD Chief John Pelletier started his post in October, coming from Las Vegas. The survey was conducted about four months into his term.

At a press conference surrounded by some command staff, Pelletier called the survey premature.

“This administration inherited a department with several critical challenges, staffing and morale being two of those. This survey points out and we agree, recruiting is crucial, it's critical,” he said. “It's second only to public safety and crime fighting.”

Pelletier added that change will take time, a point he said he made during his hiring process.

“Although we did not create this staffing shortage or these other issues, I am responsible now. We are responsible now. And we are tackling these issues each and every day," Pelletier said.

Krau said the chief’s response is not enough.

“As far as we're concerned, all of the problems from a past administration left with a past administration. We have an opportunity for a fresh start,” Krau said. “That's what we all wanted; that's what the community wanted. That's what the officers at the Maui Police Department wanted — that fresh start. And that's what we were hoping for. That's what we wanted, and we're not getting it, we didn't get it.”

In addition to improved communication, surveyed officers said a higher base pay and an alternative patrol schedule should be a priority for retention.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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