‘Startling’ number of officer vacancies at HPD spur public safety concerns

HPD says it needs to fill about 390 vacancies ― or nearly 20% of the entire force.
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 4:58 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 5, 2023 at 5:07 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Department is scrambling to hire hundreds of police officers, a critical shortage that a former deputy chief says could be impacting the agency’s ability to respond to crime.

HPD says it needs to fill about 390 vacancies ― or nearly 20% of the entire force.

Despite repeated requests, HPD wouldn’t do an on-camera interview for this story. In an email, a spokesperson said the department’s officer shortage isn’t impacting public safety.

But not everyone agrees with that sentiment.

“The numbers are starting to get concerning,” said retired HPD deputy chief John McCarthy.

“The more vacancies you have, the more that impact is felt by the community. And crooks, they notice. They see areas are short. They know that areas aren’t going to be covered.”

Meanwhile, 911 calls aren’t slowing down across Oahu. In the past month alone, HPD responded to a deadly stand-off in Mokuleia, a barricade situation in Mililani and dozens of burglaries, robberies, assaults and other crimes.

The Honolulu Police Department is authorized to have 2,177 sworn officers.

But as of May 1, the department confirmed 390 of those positions were vacant.

In an email, HPD said “the shortage has not affected police services.”

A spokesperson added the issue is “primarily being addressed through the use of overtime.”

There’s a list of reasons why HPD’s workforce is dwindling. Many are choosing to retire. For others, it comes down to money. They’re leaving the islands to become police officers in mainland jurisdictions that pay more.

“A lot of our guys move up to the Pacific Northwest. A few of them have gone to Nevada,” McCarthy said.

Some are quitting the profession entirely.

Meanwhile, classes at the training academy are relatively empty. Right now, there are just 91 recruits.

“That’s only 25% of the authorized pool,” McCarthy said. “The numbers are striking and getting worse.”

In an effort to attract new hires, the department says it’s considering implementing a three-day workweek for patrol districts and possible alternative work schedules for other sworn and civilian positions.

HPD also says it’s reviewing incentives being offered by other law enforcement agencies.

McCarthy says real action needs to be taken and fast.

“Each and every vacancy impacts the community somehow,” McCarthy said. “If this is an indication of the future, it tells me the department is in trouble.”

The staffing shortage isn’t just an HPD issue, however.

Recruiting and retention are two problems plaguing police departments nationwide.