Controversial proposal calls for airport sheriffs to become DOT police force

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In an effort to better protect Hawaii's airports, the state Department of Transportation said Tuesday that it wants to create and control its own airport police force – a proposal that was met with immediate criticism by some state lawmakers.

Under the proposed agreement, DOT officials would take over command of dozens of Sheriff's deputies from the Department of Public Safety, which currently provides law enforcement services to Hawaii's busiest airport.

The deal ends weeks of speculation over who would police the airports – Hawaii News Now learned last month that the Department of Transportation plans on terminating the current law enforcement agreement in December – but critics say Hawaii's airport managers aren't qualified to run a law enforcement agency.

"There's no need for DOT to have its own law enforcement division. It just doesn't make sense," said state Sen. Will Espero, the co-chair of the Transportation Committee.

The union for the Sheriff's deputies has filed protests over the decision out of fear that the state would try and replace them with private security guards from Securitas, an agency that has faced criticism recently because of high profile events and questionable hiring practices.

Governor David Ige said the deal is far from done, but changes are needed to protect the millions of people who pass through Honolulu.

"We are looking at what's the best way to ensure and, there's no explicit plan at this point," Ige said. "But we continue to work toward a solution."

Espero said transportation department officials should not be in the business of law enforcement. He tried to dissolve the DOT's Harbor Police Force years ago, citing mismanagement.

Many in the airline industry have accused the department DOT of similar mismanagement issues when it comes to construction projects.

The details of the proposal are still being worked out, and the measure would need to be approved by the state Legislature.

There is also uncertainty about what would happen at the airport between December 2017, when the current agreement ends, and May 2018, when the legislature is expected to vote on the proposal.

Officials from the departments of Public Safety and Transportation did not return requests for comment on that particular issue, though they did release the following statement:

The Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) and Department of Public Safety (DPS) are working on a new agreement regarding airport security at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) and have agreed that operational control of the Sheriff's Deputies assigned to the Airports Division will be led by the HDOT Director. The TSA approved Airport Security Plan will continue to be followed. The sheriff's deputies and private security will continue to work at HNL with separate and distinct responsibilities. In June 2017, HDOT notified DPS it will be terminating the agreement with DPS regarding its services.

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