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SHOPO finds low morale at Kauaʻi Police Department

Kauai Police Department

Frustrations and low morale at the Kauaʻi Police Department are reflected in a new union-sponsored workplace survey.

“The results speak volumes about the level of frustration our members feel about their working conditions, low morale and the lack of clear direction as to where the department is headed,” SHOPO Kauaʻi Chapter Chair Kennison Nagahisa said. “The rank and file are demanding action now from the chief and Police Commission to set our department on the right track.”

Morale was scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. The average score of officers surveyed was 3.58.

Nagahisa, a KPD lieutenant, said this is no surprise.

“Low morale stems from a lot of stuff, right? We can go all day with this,” Nagahisa said, listing bargaining, grievances, transfers and other functions that impact morale. “(It’s) internal things that's going on in a department that's driving this frustration.”

More than 80% of the chapter’s 136 membership, which represents officers and lieutenants, responded to the anonymous survey in August. Many pointed to lack of communication with command staff and the Police Commission as drawbacks.

According to the survey, 27% of respondents are thinking of leaving the department in the next two years. Many cited low morale and poor workplace conditions.

Nagahisa called this “very alarming.”

“Recruiting is hard nationwide, it’s difficult for police,” Nagahisa said. “The retention aspect, we got to come to the table and work on ideas to maybe keep some guys.”

Survey respondents expressed positive reviews for their physical workplace and equipment, but officers did say they feel the department is understaffed, poorly trained and has too large of caseloads.

Chief Todd Raybuck disagreed with the notion that the department is understaffed, noting that KPD has hired 52 new officers.

"KPD’s commitment to continuously recruit and hire officers allowed the department to realize the lowest vacancy rate in more than a decade and the current sworn staffing stands at nearly 90%,” Raybuck said in a statement.

By reducing vacancy rates, the department has been able to reduce mandatory overtime.

“Prioritizing patrol staffing significantly reduced the number of forced overtime shifts that officers were required to cover empty patrol beats and permanently staffed an additional patrol beat that increased officer coverage across the island,” Raybuck said. “Our patrol shifts are staffed at 100% and our community can be assured we have the officers on the street to answer the call when needed.”

Results were critical of Raybuck, who started with the department in 2019. SHOPO reports that 74% of respondents said they felt the department lacked direction under his leadership.

“The bigger picture is we want to get him to recognize the results and the issues and acknowledge it and then work with us, or use us to help bridge that gap, especially with the morale and all of that,” Nagahisa said. “He was pretty receptive to it.”

In his own statement, Raybuck thanked SHOPO for the survey. Raybuck said the department isn’t perfect, and took ownership for change.

“The concerns raised in the survey present an opportunity to provide better communications and identify solutions to make the police department better,” Raybuck said. “Change is difficult and effective change takes time. The responsibility to make positive change in this department falls on me, my executive staff, the union leadership, and every member of this department.”

In his three years at the helm, Raybuck has faced several workplace investigations for his behavior, including a sustained charge for discrimination and creating a hostile work environment for an officer based on race which resulted in a five-day unpaid suspension.

Survey respondents were also critical of the Police Commission, though many seemed to not know what the body did. Nagahisa said the union reached out to commissioners individually and was turned down to present the survey findings.

“It is disheartening and really disrespectful that not a single member of the police commission wanted to be briefed on the results of our survey,” SHOPO President Robert Cavaco said in a statement. “These commissioners want to bury their heads in the sand and deny that the Kauaʻi Police Department has real challenges that need immediate attention. We are close to filing a missing person’s report to locate these commissioners, so they can hear the voices of our members and do their jobs."

Police Commission Chair Chip Behouth said the body has offered the union a chance to share its presentation at its next meeting.

“We thank SHOPO for taking the time and effort to conduct this survey of its members," Behouth said in an emailed statement. "We look forward to hearing more from SHOPO leadership and have invited them to attend the upcoming Police Commission meeting on October 28 so that they may share their presentation in open session to the full body of the Commission, in accordance with the Sunshine Law."

Over the course of the last year, the commission has seen one resignation and one longtime member term out. Its most recent September meeting was canceled due to a lack of quorum.

County spokesperson Sarah Blane said the administration is seeking approval to fill those vacancies. Blane said Mayor Derek Kawakami, away at a conference this week, will be briefed on the survey next week.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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