Lawmaker: DOT is trying to skirt public review of plan to start its own police force

(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state senator says the state Department of Transportation is trying to avoid legislative scrutiny and public hearings on a plan to start its own police force.

The Transportation Department added $6.6 million into its budget to absorb the 59 deputy sheriffs assigned to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Currently, they are part of the Public Safety Department.

But state Sen. Will Espero, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, says the DOT shouldn't be allowed to bypass approval from lawmakers simply because both agencies agreed on the transfer of the deputies.

"I and a few of my colleagues are against this because we feel like the Department of Transportation should stay focused on transportation issues," Espero said. "They should allow the law enforcement and security issues to be run by the professionals (that's) the Department of Public Safety."

Meanwhile, DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara said the agency wants to be in control of the deputy sheriffs and the contracted private security guards to streamline law enforcement operations at the airport.

"It would have the single, unified command," Sakahara said. "It would better organize security plans and protocols and implement any federal changes quicker."

Espero isn't convinced.

He said he'll introduce a bill that would prevent such a large shift in personnel, especially a law enforcement unit, without public input and approval from lawmakers. He hopes it stops the DOT budget from going through without discussion.

The head of the Hawaii Government Employees Association agrees with Espero.

"This notion of creating a separate police force just doesn't make sense," said union leader Randy Perreira. "It's just further diluting responsibility and I don't see any logical reason the legislature would consider doing that."

Perreira said HGEA support a bill that has not yet been introduced that would give the state attorney general's office control of all state law enforcement agencies: The deputy sheriffs at the airport, Harbor Patrol police and conservation officers.

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.