HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New numbers show an alarming number of vacancies within the ranks of the Honolulu Police Department – and a decline in the size of average recruiting classes is doing little to fix the problem.
Police department officials say there are roughly 2,000 total officers on the force. At present, nearly 200 of those officer positions remain open, a 10-percent vacancy rate.
The state's police union president says the shortage puts our community at risk.
"On this island alone, there are approximately 1.2 million people on any given day, residents and visitors alike," said Tenari Ma'afala. "There's only 2,000 officers serving that 1.2 million people. Per eight-to-10 hour shift, we only have 500 officers out there protecting 1.2 million people. That is crazy," said Tenari Maafala.
Maafala's worries are compounded by the realization that more than 300 officers are eligible to retire soon, while recruit classes meant to fill the vacancies are becoming smaller and smaller.
Acting Police Chief Cary Okimoto says that shortage is why the department has had to extend its open enrollment process for the last recruit class twice in order to fill 45 vacant officer positions.
"Continually recruiting, trying to get the best people for this job ... it's difficult at times, but we continue to stay the course," Okimoto said.
HPD's 184th class of recruits graduated only 17 new officers during their February ceremony. There were 32 graduates in it's 183rd class, in October of 2016, and just 12 graduates in the department's 182nd class, in June of 2016.
Okimoto says recruiting remains very selective despite the shortage.
"There's 11 steps, including the background check. It's not a very easy job to get," he said. "Out of 1,000 people who take the written test, maybe 400 will pass. Then out of that 400, they go through the 11 steps and they wind up with a class of 25 to 30 people."
Ma'afala remembers a time when the police academy produced more than 50 graduates per class. Now, considering the growing nationwide and local criticism of cops, policing is a less-appealing career.
"I think because of all that's going on, with the rhetoric against law enforcement and the assumption of collusion and corruption, it's really affecting and impacting the officer's mind as to why we should sacrifice so much," he said. "And yet, we don't get the appreciation. It's not that we're looking for credit or anything, just the fairness of it all."
For comparison, Maui County has 22 vacant positions out of 385 authorized personnel, and there is just one vacancy in Hawaii County out of 450 personnel.