Police Chief Perry reflects on state of KPD

Joan Conrow
Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry in his office. Perry withdrew his name from the running for Honolulu Police Department chief to finish the job he started with the Kauai force.    Photo by Joan Conrow

KAUAI—When Police Chief Darryl Perry started work on Kauai two years ago, he was startled to find that his office lacked not only transition reports, but even such rudimentary supplies as a pencil and stapler.

“I wondered what else I would find if the basics were missing,” Perry recalled during a KKCR radio interview that I conducted with him on Thursday afternoon.

He soon discovered that much more was missing from the long-troubled department, including an internal affairs division, certain records, modern policies, good morale, and leadership. The force had some 30 vacant positions, and no disciplinary action had been taken against officers for the previous three years, resulting in a backlog of about 20 cases.

The scorched earth policy that his bare office represented also spoke to the unwelcoming, hostile environment of KPD, whose last two chiefs had been forced out of the job, resulting in lawsuits against Kauai County.

The state of the department came as a shock to Perry, who worked as a patrol officer at the Kauai Police Department between 1976-80, and saw no internal dysfunction or morale problems during that time. He said he didn’t know what happened to the department during the 27 years while he was gone.

“For the first couple months, I really thought I had bit off more than I could chew,” said Perry, a Kauai native. “I truly didn’t expect the amount of work that was required. It wasn’t unusual to spend 14 to 15 hours and come back to work the next day and get criticism. I had to get some tough skin right away.”

But when Perry announced he was seeking the job of Honolulu police chief, he discovered he’d made more of an impact on the community than he thought. People expressed sadness at the prospect of his departure, and “that surprised me,” said Perry, who recently withdrew his name from consideration for the top HPD job.

“Our goal is to make KPD the best in the whole state,” he said. “It’s aiming high, but it’s going to be attainable.”

Instead, Perry, who is entering the final year of his initial three-year contract, plans to stay at the KPD and continue what he described as “a tremendous undertaking to change everything.”

Perry immediately moved to create an internal affairs unit and train the disciplinary board. They’ve been working through the backlog of misconduct cases, which resulted in the termination of one officer and one civilian employee. Another three officers resigned in lieu of termination, several officers were suspended and some charges were not sustained.

While Perry holds officers accountable for their actions, he also believes that “the leadership has to take responsibility for the conduct of the officers,” a position that caused him to take “some heat” from senior officers.

He said complaints about officer misconduct are now down, both internally and from the public.

Perry also was surprised to see that many KPD officers retired as soon as they were eligible after 25 years of service, while HPD had a lot of officers with 40-plus years of experience. He attributed the early retirement rate at KPD to low department morale, as well as the overlapping duties assigned to the small staff.

“When you wear many hats, you have a tendency to get burned out,” Perry said.

He’s filled 18 vacancies and another 18 remain, with a second recruit class scheduled for the spring. Less than 10 percent of the applicants make it to recruit class, he said, and even then there’s some attrition, so building the force is a slow process.

KPD now has a number of new, young officers, and Perry said he is shaping the officers by emphasizing strong communication skills while “really pushing the mission statement,” which he described as honesty, integrity, treating people with respect and living the aloha spirit.

“We’ve really explained to our officers that we need to do business in a different way than we’ve done before,” he said. “We need to be service-oriented.”

Perry said Kauai has an overall low crime rate compared to the other main Hawaiian Islands, and violent crime is on a downward trend. Property crimes, which he attributes to the economic conditions, continue to be an issue, especially burglaries and car break-ins on the North Shore, where police have created a task force to deal with the problem.

Although Perry was criticized for purchasing Tasers for the department, he defended their use. “They are not meant to punish people, but control violent individuals, immobilize individuals. We have policies in place and we have used them [Tasers] to great effect.”

He said KPD officers have used Tasers at least five times on Kauai. The Tasers are equipped with a memory card that records their use so superiors can determine if they were used in accordance with the department’s policies and procedures.

Perry dismissed concerns that Tasers are a deadly weapon, saying that although there have been reports linking Tasers with deaths, in 99 percent of those cases, autopsies determined that pre-existing conditions, and not Tasers, were the cause of death.

“All the research I’ve read says that Tasers are safe,” he said.

The department also acquired riot gear, or what he likes to term safety equipment, prior to his arrival in response to the large Superferry protests. He said the gear is now in storage.

Perry said his greatest challenge is “to remain positive that things will get better and all the effort we’re putting forward will come to fruition in coming years. Sometimes it gets to you—you think you’re doing a great job and then you get criticized. I guess it’s human nature to think, why am I putting all these hours in when you’re being criticized.”

Despite the obstacles still facing the department, Perry remains optimistic.

“Our goal is to make KPD the best in the whole state,” he said. “It’s aiming high, but it’s going to be attainable.”