The sky was dark, with clouds squeezing all the color out of the sky, save for a streak of red in the northeast and a wedge of moon shining white-gold in a small circle of clear directly overhead, when Koko and I went alking this morning.
We headed mauka, toward a mass of black relieved by patches of jagged gray that obliterated all the interior mountains, where surely it was raining. I thought some might reach us, with clouds swirling in from all directions, but save for a brief burst when we’d already returned home, none fell and the sky gradually grew lighter.
I had a talk yesterday with someone who shed a bit of light on responses from the police chief and Tom Iannucci, chairman of the police commission, that were printed in the local paper following a commentary written by Juan Wilson.
This source, whom I know to be a credible person with deep, and sometimes adversarial, connections to the police department, said that Chief Perry didn’t actually pen the piece that carried his name. Instead, it was most likely written by Deputy Chief Mark Begley.
While Katy Rose, in a letter published in today’s Garden Island, objects to the sarcastic and disrespectful tone of the responses from Iannucci and Perry, it seems there was a reason why that particular approach was taken.
Contrary to what some in the community may believe, the chief’s overriding concern at the moment is not the purchase of Tasers or what type of vehicles officers should drive, but unifying a badly fractured department into a cohesive whole.
My source estimated that at least 20 percent of a KPD officer’s time is spent accusing other officers of misconduct or defending oneself against such allegations. Meanwhile, the three divisions that are supposed to work together in unity — Investigative, Patrol and Vice — “despise each other.”
“So what’s the best way to unite people who hate each other? Create a common enemy,” my source said. “Of course, it could also be done through love, but that’s not going to happen, because we’re talking about the police. So now you have Investigative, Patrol and Vice all screaming ‘F*** Juan Wilson’ in unity.”
Certainly Katy’s right that it’s best for public officials to avoid derision and disrespect, even when responding to derisive and disrespectful communications from the public. But sometimes there’s more going on than what’s visible on the surface.
I personally do not want to see the Kauai cops armed with Tasers, especially if there is no policy that makes their use consistent with the model for deadly force — in other words, don’t pull your Taser in a situation where you couldn’t pull your gun. And that means no misdemeanors, or escaping misdemeanors, which account for about 90 percent of KPD’s case load.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that Tasers are only a very small issue in this very troubled police department. The bigger problems, as I see them, are rooting out bad cops and getting KPD to function at all.
So let’s step back a minute and put things in perspective. Chief Perry has been on the job just seven months. According to my source, before the chief was even hired, he was vetted by the FBI, whose public corruption unit was working to weed out some of the bad guys at KPD.
The chief’s first official act was to get rid of the FBI’s “two most wanted” guys on the force — cops that former Chief K.C. Lum wouldn’t touch, and to take on “some known brutality and corruption cases” within the department. [Update: Just to clarify, the two cops in question technically resigned in a "you can't fire me, I quit" scenario.]
Frankly, when you’re dealing with stuff like this, while also trying to implement an Internal Affairs division, learn the ropes and politics of a small town department and improve coordination with the Prosecutor’s office so that cases can successfully come to trial — all while watching your back — a person grumbling about the wording of the mission statement and suggesting the cops switch to electrical carts comes across like a flea to be shaken off.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t expect respectful dialogue with police officials, hold the chief accountable for serious reforms or offer thoughtful comments and solutions for the issues that concern us. And I'm certainly not saying Begley's strategy was the best one, even if it does prove effective.
But if we want to advance any of our own agendas, let’s just make sure we’ve got our priorities straight when we engage the KPD.