Lax management and equipment problems have created a state Sheriff Division that could jeopardize public safety, a scathing audit concludes.
"Poor leadership has led to a division that may be a risk to the public it is supposed to protect," said Legislative Auditor Marion Higa’s report, which listed problems ranging from a lack of training for the deputy sheriffs to a lack of guidance from the state Department of Public Safety.
The DPS division has been assigned a range of duties, but because of "ineffective leadership" at the departmental level, the law enforcement agency "lacks guidance and direction," the auditor said in the report released last month.
Clayton Frank, director of the Department of Public Safety, admitted
"deficiencies" and said officials have been working to address them, but said the conclusion about public risk is "an overstatement of the day-to-day reality."
State Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee, called the audit "eye-opening" last week and said it underscored what he has heard before.
"I’ve heard complaints and concerns from deputy sheriffs, and one concern they’ve had is they feel they are the stepchild of the department," Espero said.
Following the retirement in February of Sheriff Frank Dela Rosa, who criticized his department superiors for "reckless and negligent leadership," Espero said he intended to hold a hearing "soon." Some of Dela Rosa’s complaints were echoed in the auditor’s report.
But Espero said last week that he is busy with other matters, and noted that the department will be under Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration for just a few more months. She leaves office in December.
Espero said that if there are no hearings, he will have private conversations with the administration to try to ensure the problems will not persist.
Jim Propotnick, deputy director of the Department of Public Safety, said department officials would be happy to provide answers to Espero’s questions.
"Everything that was in the report we were aware of," he said. "We’re addressing it, and we’re covering every single thing they brought up."
Higa’s audit investigation from July 2009 to March began by focusing on the sheriff’s backlog of bench warrants, a problem highlighted by a 2006 Honolulu Advertiser series that reported about 61,500 outstanding bench warrants on Oahu allowed defendants to avoid charges and cost the state a potential of $20 million in unpaid fines and fees. About 51,000 warrants were with the Sheriff Division.
The auditor’s report found that the loss of fines should be closer to $10 million for several reasons, including defendants being found not guilty or getting a jail term instead of fines.
But the report noted the outstanding traffic warrants with the sheriff division increased to 54,674 last year, and the backlog represented a "red flag" directing investigators to other problems with the division.
The report said that since it was transferred to Public Safety in 1989, the Sheriff
Division has been "saddled with an ill-defined role and a lack of mission clarity" and has "struggled to uphold its expanded law enforcement duties and responsibilities."
Serving the only state that does not have a state police force, the sheriff and more than 300 deputies not only serve warrants and provide security to state officials, courthouses, the airport and other state facilities; they also are involved in drug enforcement, illegal immigration, criminal investigations, eviction proceedings and traffic enforcement, according to the report.
"Inadequate law enforcement training, issues pertaining to equipment and an absence of procedures related to the staffing and service of the courts have raised questions regarding the safety of the public, the courts and the deputy sheriffs themselves," the report said.
Frank said the administration has been trying to resolve some of the problems the past three years. "We will continue to forge ahead to resolve the issues at hand with the resources and funding we have."
SHERIFF DIVISION AUDIT: KEY FINDINGS
Some of the issues raised by Legislative Auditor Marion Higa’s audit of the Sheriff Division of the state Department of Public Safety, and the department’s responses:
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