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Thursday, December 26, 2019
Mauna Kea Protest Shows Need for a Return to Elected County Sheriffs
By Andrew Walden @ 1:10 PM :: 2495 Views :: Hawaii County , Greenmail, Hawaii History, OHA, Police

by Andrew Walden


For 18 weeks, police have been held back from enforcing the law as protesters funded by the State of Hawai’i Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) block telescope construction on Mauna Kea.

The problem is that Hawai’i County Police are beholden to Mayor Harry Kim.  Kim’s support for the protesters translated into a refusal to allow police to clear the road for telescope construction to begin.

It doesn’t have to be this way. 

Each of Hawai’i's four county police chiefs are appointed by their respective county police commissions who are in turn appointees of the Mayor.

But in 46 of the 50 United States, independently elected county sheriffs are the norm.  These Sheriffs have to answer to the voters, not to the mayor and thereby are less likely to allow their own departments to become pawns in support of unpopular protest movements—even when the County Mayor is with the protesters.

The abolition of Hawai’i’s elected sheriffs flows directly from the infamous 1931 Massie Rape Case

In 1905, four county governments were established in the Territory of Hawaii. Each had its own police department headed by an elected sheriff.  But, under pressure from the military after the Massie case, in 1932 the elected Honolulu Sheriff was replaced by a Police Chief appointed by a Police Commission which at the time was appointed by the Territorial Governor who himself was appointed by the US President. 

Other counties eventually followed suit.  According to the Maui County PD website, “The Sheriff's position was abolished in 1939 and a Police Commission was established and given the power to appoint a Chief of Police.”  The elected Hawai’i County and Kaua’i County Sheriffs were abolished and replaced with appointed Police Chiefs only in 1943—during WW2 while Hawai’i was under martial law.

Hawai’i’s original County Sheriffs were abolished to separate law enforcement from the will of people not trusted by military authorities—‘locals’ after the Massie case, Japanese after Pearl Harbor. 

Flash forward 76 years. 

It is not the military, but OHA, that fears the will of the people.

Political interference is the only reason the unpopular telescope protesters have been successful.

The will of the people—that the protesters be pushed aside--is being thwarted because we lack elected County Sheriffs.

The State of Hawai’i Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) President Malcolm Lutu tells HNN August 12, 2019 police plans to arrest TMT protesters were disrupted by ‘politics’.  Says Lutu, “I think if they kept to the original plan, it probably would have been solved already." 

In the same HNN report, Sgt. James “Kimo” Smith of the Honolulu Police Department explains:

“We were going to clear the road (on the third day of protests) and for whatever reason information that filtered between the command personnel on site did not come back down to us on the road. At some point, the decision was made to have us depart….”

Where did the decision come from?  According to Governor Ige’s office, “The ultimate decision was made by Hawai’i County Police Department with the support of unified command.”

The source of the problem became clearer in November when Hawai’i County Mayor Harry Kim effectively endorsed the anti-telescope protests calling them “a new Hawaiian Renaissance.”

Police statewide have paid a price for being pawns in Harry Kim’s political games. 

Hawaii County Police Maj. Samuel Jelsma, the commander in charge of the Mauna Kea operation says: “While we were waiting for things to happen, inactivity is putting out the message that the police are weak. … We’re getting all these complaints, we’re just sitting there, officers are getting paid overtime.”


Related: Kahuku and Waimanalo Protests show why Hawaii Needs Municipal Government


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