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State makes headway in establishing new Department of Law Enforcement

barbed wire in front of a jail or prison tower
Sabrina Bodon
/
HPR
Oʻahu Community Correctional Center on Oct. 24, 2022.

As the state bifurcates the Department of Public Safety into two departments, some of the functions will remain the same, but some operations will transfer into the new Department of Law Enforcement.

Jordan Lowe, the appointed director for the Department of Law Enforcement, is tasked with establishing the administrative side of the department by July.

"Some of our other goals includes to increase public safety, improve decision making, streamline communications, reduce duplication of efforts and provide uniform training standards," Lowe told the state House Finance Committee last week.

Lowe is also tasked with merging various state law enforcement assets, and finding a headquarters for the department.

The department is requesting $79 million in the upcoming fiscal year budget, which includes a $30 million investment in technology innovation. In the next five years or so, the department will need around $60 million to upgrade its IT. Some of the advancements will include software for records and investigative case management, body cameras and radios.

The current systems, Lowe said, are "very antiqued."

"We felt as a new department, you know, we may as well try to do it right from the get-go," Lowe said.

Already, the department had made headway in establishing partnerships with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force and connecting with local investigators and deputy sheriffs to combat the opioid epidemic.

On the other side of the Department of Law Enforcement is the Department of Public Safety.

By next year, this department will be renamed the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and some of its goals will change.

"We will be shifting from what some people might see as a more punitive correctional model to one of a more program and re-entry model, which is really where we should be to effect more positive change," appointed DPS director Tommy Johnson said.

The department’s top priority is replacing the state’s largest facility: Oʻahu Community Correctional Center.

oahu community correctional facility jail prison
Sabrina Bodon
/
HPR
An inmate's bed and personal items at the Oʻahu Community Correctional Center on Oct. 24, 2022.

While the department is asking for $15 million next fiscal year to do this, a replacement could cost up to $600 million.

"If we built a place like OCCC but we made it modern design, we could substantially cut down on the staffing costs, which is the highest costs," Johnson said.

The department asked for $15 million last year to continue the planning and design for this facility, and the capital improvement budget, but only received about 10% of the requested budget.

"But given our aging facilities, OCCC for example, part of it is 112 years old or more, the maintenance upkeep is tens of millions of dollars each year," Johnson said.

Hypothetically, if the department were to upgrade or open a new facility, which would reduce staffing, they would have the flexibility to move and fill vacancies at other facilities "which would cut down on the tens of millions of dollars we spend in overtime."

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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