HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Taxpayers have built an arsenal of long guns for the Public Safety Department in recent years, but dozens of those firearms are just collecting dust in the armory because the state’s own policy doesn’t allow them to be used, Hawaii News Now has learned.
Since 2016, Public Safety has spent more than $77,000 worth to buy 96 Sig Sauer rifles.
Receipts show $18,000 was spent on one bulk purchase, $19,000 for two other buys, and then a $20,000 order.
But a state policy that’s been around since 1995 says only Colt A-R 15 rifles are allowed to be used by deputy sheriffs.
As long as the policy is around, no one can use those brand new Sig Sauer rifles.
HNN’s investigation also showed that the department spent more than $65,000 to buy 120 Remington 870 shotguns since 2016.
These shotguns are allowed under the policy, but in a bizarre twist, the department has not issued them. That’s meant the cache remains in the armory.
“Anyone in law enforcement needs to have the proper tools," said Tommy Aiu, former federal agent and police officer.
"Anywhere from less than lethal to lethal ... you need to have the full range of tools available to help keep yourself and the public safe.”
Aiu says the sheriff’s deputies assigned to the state Capitol are especially vulnerable because of its open air set-up and accessibility.
In the case of an active shooter, the long guns need to be available.
Deputies have also been asking for the less lethal and pepper ball weapons.
A separate Hawaii News Now investigation showed the department has dozens of less lethal weapons, but refuses to put them out in the field.
Renee Sonobe Hong, deputy Director of Law Enforcement with Public Safety, said in a statement that the less lethal weapons were for training purposes only.
That statement angered the union representing sheriff’s deputies.
“In all honestly, I felt the deputy director’s response ... was just plain stupid,” said HGEA leader Randy Perreira, who sent a letter to the governor’s office after HNN’s story aired.
“Equipment is there and available in some locker stored and they choose as matter of policy not to make it available that’s the ridiculous part.”
Getting the Sig Sauer rifles out of the armory and onto the streets would require a policy change.
On Monday, Public Safety issued a statement on the long guns, saying they are now working on changing the policy and registering the guns, even though they've had them for years.
PSD says this is part of a three-year implementation plan and those guns will be distributed after they’re tagged and registered.
The revelations about the Public Safety Department’s unused rifles and less lethal weapons come as the agency is facing mounting criticism, including over several fatal shootings and its handling of a recent riot at the Maui Community Correctional Center.