HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) is no longer providing COVID enforcement teams to catch violators of group gatherings, quarantine and mask orders. A spokeswoman says the department is looking into possible overtime violations by its officers and the enforcement teams have been suspended indefinitely.
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A city councilman says the decision could not have come at a worse time. He says more police enforcement will be needed to help prevent another surge in COVID cases with the holidays approaching.
“I think the HPD’s decision is very disturbing and could ultimately endanger the health and well being of our communities,” said Councilman Ron Menor.
HPD launched the COVID Enforcement team in August, using officers to catch violators of group gatherings, quarantine, and mask orders. The officers were paid overtime using federal CARES Act funding.
A spokeswoman says, “A subsequent review has revealed multiple violations of the department’s overtime policies, and administrative investigations have been opened.”
Police sources say officers were allowed no more than 24 hours a week of overtime. There were two officers who each racked up 300 hours of overtime in five weeks, averaging 60 hours a week.
HPD says officers and supervisors found to be in violation will be disciplined. Councilman Menor says shutting down the whole program punishes the entire community.
“They should be reprimanded accordingly but not by shutting down an enforcement team that was set up to protect our communities from COVID-19,” he said.
Menor has sent letters to Chief Susan Ballard and pushed a resolution for stronger enforcement in the past and strongly disagrees with her decision. Mayor Kirk Caldwell is backing her up.
“It does put some stress in the men and women of HPD. I think the chief of police has taken the correct action, immediate action in a very open and transparent way,” he said.
The Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association sent a statement saying, “Our major concern is that this could be very challenging to the response times to our hotels when individuals are breaking quarantine or violating the law.”
HPD says, “COVID-related complaints from the public will be handled by on-duty patrol officers based on availability.”