Policing during a pandemic: new challenges Hawaii Police face on the job

Coronavirus

Thousands of law enforcement officers across the country have contracted COVID-19 while doing their job. 

“I’m in touch with NYPD (New York Police Department) and they got nailed. We’re lucky for what we’ve been going through. But, it has changed our job,” said Hawaii Police Officers Union President Malcolm Lutu. 

Three Honolulu Police Officers contracted the coronavirus, says Lutu. He adds he does not believe there were any positive cases involving law enforcement officers on Kauai, Maui, or the Big Island. 

“Once we got suited with the personal protective equipment, we now have different ways of handling cases. So we do a lot of co-response with EMS and the Honolulu Fire Department for wellness checks. I told my guys, once EMS is there and it’s not a criminal situation and more of a welfare check, let EMS handle it. They’ are (properly) suited up, HFD is suited up. Police aren’t. We don’t have the same equipment as the other two agencies.” 

In April, Hawaii Island Police recently arrested and charged Pahoa man Mark Blankley after he allegedly coughed and spat at grocery store employees, claiming he had the coronavirus. 

Despite the increased danger in the job, Lutu says he’s noticed an increase in “interest.” 

“People are now realizing they want to be out there helping people. Our recruit classes are starting to pick up. Nationwide, (departments) couldn’t attract officers. Nobody wanted to do the job. And I hope it’s turning around. It’s an honorable profession. You’re helping people. We are not out there to punish people.”

Though he admits there are some obstacles. 

“They are bad officers out there. But 99 percent are good, nationwide. You’re going to have some bad apples.”

Lutu hopes more men and women join the force. 

“With the pandemic, I think yes, it’s not just police but it’s all first responders (that people are gaining interest in). There seems to be a different respect towards police, fire, nurses, even teachers. Everybody is having a hard time. With all the rules and the obstacles they have to cover to do their jobs.” 

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