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Hawaii News

Hawaii County police make progress on hiring officers

                                Benjamin Moszkowicz
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Benjamin Moszkowicz

In his State of the County address in March, Hawaii island Mayor Mitch Roth set a goal of filling all the vacant officer positions in the Hawaii Police Department by June 2025.

“We have been making significant headway through a new continuous recruitment model and have seen an influx of new potential officers since switching to this model,” Roth said during his speech at the West Hawaii Civic Center in Kailua-Kona.

According to Hawaii County Police Chief Benjamin Moszkowicz, as of Thursday the department had 484 sworn officer positions financed by the county, and there were 433 officers on the roster, leaving 51 vacancies to be filled.

“That does count recruits that I currently have in training,” Moszkowicz said. “I have one class of 16 … that graduates in October, and I have another class of 16 that’s in field training.”

Moszkowicz said that when he was hired as chief in January 2023, there were only two 10-day application periods yearly for prospective officers, in April and October.

“So, you would apply and then the window would close,” the chief said. “They would take the several hundred people who applied, and they’d figure out who meets the minimum qualifications. Then they’d administer them all a written test, hundreds of people. Then the people who passed the written test would be invited to the agility test. Everybody in that group went through the process together. So, from the time you took the test in April or October until the time you got hired was about nine months.”

According to Moszkowicz, the long lag time between application and hiring caused a large number of qualified candidates to find other employment or lose interest in becoming an officer.

Moszkowicz said that since the middle of May 2023, the county has been accepting police officer applications 24/7 online.

“Think of it like an assembly line, where every month people are taking the written test and the agility test,” he said. “And in the same month, the people from the previous month are going through their background checks. And the people from the month before that are going through their final steps before a conditional offer.

“So, every three to four months, we’ve built up enough people who are qualified and getting final offers that we’re starting a recruit class every four months. But the changes in the process have taken us from classes of five or six to classes of 23 and 17 — and we’re probably looking at 18 to 20 to hire in the middle of July.”

Another change is in how background investigations are being done.

The bulk of the pre-hire investigations used to be done by the department’s Office of Professional Standards, which is the internal affairs unit, with an assist from the Criminal Investigation Division — which, Moszkowicz noted, took some of the focus away from those officers’ primary duties.

The background checks are now being done by five part-time civilian investigators who are mostly retired police officers, with funding coming from unfilled positions within the department. Those part-time investigators do the background checks not only for officers, but also dispatchers, other civilian employees and volunteers within the department.

‘That helps us even out the work flow internally, because we don’t have 50 or 60 background investigations to do all at once. We do 10 or 12 or 15 a month,” Moszkowicz said. “As a result of that, we’ve found that we could get through those investigations much more quickly. We had a backlog of 40 or 50 investigations when they started, and now there’s no backlog.

“That change in process is letting people get through the process a lot faster, and a lot more efficiently for us, which makes sense because we’re now able to retain them in the job market in that they’re still interested in the job. So, the time now from the written test to a final offer is about four months, five months. And we’re sending those final offers before the class starts.”

In addition, recruits being hired now have an opportunity to work within the department before their recruit class begins, as “police services officers,” the chief said.

“We’re hiring some in the middle of June in advance of the July class,” Moszkowicz said. “They’re not doing recruit stuff, but there’s other administrative and logistical stuff that the department does all the time, and we’re using these extra hands to help us do those things. They get accustomed to our culture, and we get to know them a little bit. Ideally, they develop friendships or mentorships with people in the department before they start the recruit class.

“So, once they start it’s not zero to 100; they’re already kind of up to speed. They’ll know some of the staff who’s going to train them, and they know what some of the physical training looks like.

“I think we had six from the 100th recruit class who started as police service officers, and we still have all six of those recruits. We’ve only lost one recruit from that class.”

The chief said there will always be retirements, resignations and other turnover of officers in the department, but he expressed confidence that the vacant positions can be filled by the deadline mentioned in the mayor’s address.

“I’m the one who told him I could do it,” Moszkowicz said and laughed. “He was basically repeating my pledge to him. So, based on the success that we saw from the first two or three classes — we went from having two classes a year with nine and seven people in them — with the class that’s starting next month, I’m probably going to have hired 60 officers in the last year.”

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