Honolulu Police Department Revives Program to Help with Recruiting

Feb. 26, 2024
Formerly known as the Cadet Program, Honolulu's Police Services Officer program is aimed at training young people who might not yet meet the requirements to qualify for the academy.

In its ongoing struggle to fill over 400 vacancies, the Honolulu Police Department is looking to train young people interested in law enforcement to fill its future ranks.

To that end, and after a decades-long absence, HPD in January restarted its Police Services Officer, or PSO, program.

Formerly known as the Cadet Program, it operates like a paid apprenticeship and is aimed at high schoolers who don't plan to go to college, community college students or others who may not yet meet all of the requirements to qualify for the Honolulu Police Academy.

In addition, the police force has revamped its Law Enforcement Explorers Program, which draws school-aged students, ages 14 to 20, to explore careers in police work. It currently has 25 participants.

"Since COVID we have sort of restarted the (Explorers ) program and have made some improvements, " HPD Officer Cody Koanui told the City Council's Committee on Public Safety this month.

He noted Explorers is a division of the Boy Scouts, and "is part of their Learning for Life effort, " which concentrates on certain types of careers. As part of HPD's Explorers, youth learn fundamental skills such as communication via police radios, report writing, basic knowledge of firearms and gun safety, as well as physical fitness training, he said.

"We as police officers, when we become recruits, we have to pass the physical fitness exam, " Koanui said. "We actually run the HPD physical fitness exam for our Explorers, and give them a chance to see where they stand."

Much like HPD, Koanui noted Explorers adhere to a "rank structure " that offers "different levels of responsibilities " as promotions are readily made. Explorers also take part in police division tours and "law enforcement scenarios " that includes time spent with members of the department's SWAT team.

"To give them a taste of what it's like to be a police officer, in a controlled environment that's safe, with the ability to actually succeed in whatever it is that they're doing, " he said.

Explorers are also introduced to forensics.

"So we give them a chance to see what our scientific investigative services (division ) does, " he said, adding that they recover fingerprints and other types of trace evidence. "And the specialists and technicians are available for questions and answers, and try to foster that interest the kids have in that program."

Character development is fostered too. Participants learn leadership, communication skills and develop a sense of personal responsibility.

Currently, Koanui said about 80 % of those participating in the Explorers are female, noting they are "drivers " of the program. "Their ideas are what fuels the schedule and what we do for them, " he added.

All in all, about 30 % of Explorers typically join the PSO program or work to become recruits in HPD, he added.

"At the age of 21 they age out of our (Explorers ) program, " Koanui said, noting those who do turn 21 may opt to be part of the PSO program.

Capt. Parker Bode, assigned to the department's Human Resources Division, highlighted the PSO program.

"The PSO program is interim and transitional employment for those who are interested in law enforcement but who don't yet meet the minimum requirements to apply, " Bode told the committee. "Nevertheless, we welcome anyone."

The position is a limited-­term appointment "meaning that the PSO will be expected to become a recruit upon meeting the eligibility requirements, " he added.

Minimum requirements include being at least 18 years old, having a high school diploma or equivalent, being a U.S. citizen, and meeting health-related qualifications. Background and criminal histories are investigated. And psychological, polygraph and medical exams are conducted, Bode said.

"We encourage those who want valuable experience to apply, " he said. "We expose them to the job, we ignite greater interest in the job, and we also take them through learning opportunities, and we prepare them for the rigors of the police academy and the policing profession, so that when they do enter into the recruit class they have the tools and skills to be successful."

PSOs earn over $67, 000 a year, and receive retirement, medical and dental benefits, he said. Bode noted there is no age limit for a PSO.

"So, in fact, we have a PSO who is 41, " he said. "In this case, they would just go through a PSO program before entering into the next recruit class " at the police academy. "Specifically, for age requirements, we welcome everyone."

At the meeting, Councilmember Tyler Dos Santos-­Tam asked how many apply to the PSO program each year. "And of those, how many make it through the very basic gatekeeping steps like the minimum qualifications and the personal history and the physical exam ?" he asked.

Bode replied that the PSO program had just restarted in January. "We had the program back in the'80s, it was discontinued, now we've brought it back, " he said. "There were a little over 15 applicants and four started."

Councilmember Val Okimoto asked if there was a "connector " between the Explorers and PSO program.

Bode said when someone ages out of the Explorers program at age 21, they can "simultaneously go through the hiring process to be a PSO."

"And do you have examples of that, where the department did that ?" she asked.

"Not yet, " replied Bode, "only because we just started the program."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hawaii ranked fourth—behind California, Washington and New Jersey—among the top-paying states in 2022 for police and sheriff's patrol officers. Police here earn an average annual salary of $89, 640. That compares to an average annual salary of $104, 010 in top-ranked California, federal data shows.

HPD accepts between 50 and 100 recruits per police academy class. An HPD police recruit's annual salary starts at $80, 000 and rises to about $83, 000 after one year on the job.

Currently, the application process takes about three to six months, a faster turnaround than in years past. Meanwhile, HPD continues to work to find enough qualified recruits to wear the uniform.

Of about 2, 700 employees, the department is authorized for about 2, 100 sworn police officer positions.

After the meeting, Assistant Chief Aaron Takasaki-­Young told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that both the PSO and Explorers programs—funded by HPD's current $354 million operating budget—are part of a long-term effort to add more sworn officers to HPD's ranks.

"I would look upon those programs not as a way to immediately fill vacancies but for the department in the future ... as a way to use those programs as a feeder to hire good, quality applicants, " he said by phone. "But more importantly those hires would be just successful officers that are effective, to make an impactful difference in their community."

Still, HPD vacancies persist.

"As of Jan. 2, we have 425 uniformed or sworn-officer vacancies, " he said. "That's a lot." However, he noted the police department currently has about 1, 750 sworn officers. "Which is a lot too."

"I would say if we could fill all of our vacancies that would be ideal, " he said. "Like anything else, it's either go big or go home."

As to questions about the high cost of living in Hawaii and training future police officers who may opt to take jobs in less expensive, higher-paying parts of the country, Takasaki-Young said he believed many new HPD recruits would stay.

"We understand that the cost of living here is obviously different from the continent, " he said, "but I think the Honolulu Police Department offers a unique opportunity where you aren't just an officer living here, you are actually an officer that is part of the community no matter where you work in the department."


(c)2024 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Visit The Honolulu Star-Advertiser at www.staradvertiser.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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