KPD Issues Are All About Power

By Pastor Tom Iannucci

(from left) Acting Deputy Chief Mark Begley, suspended Assistant Chief Alejandre Quibilan, acting Assistant Chief Sherwin Perez, Capt. Henry Barriga and new Acting Chief Michael Contrades in a happier moment last month at a badge-pinning ceremony before the shakeup at KPD

Editor’s note: Pastor Tom Iannucci recently completed seven years as a member of the Kaua’i Police Commission. He offers this commentary exclusively to MidWeek Kaua’i.

Power and authority: Very few people can handle having them. We have all seen it in business, military and even in the schoolyard. When someone gets a position and has power over someone else or a group, they either lead with equity and understanding of their newly gained power and its purpose, or they simply feel they have arrived and they will use that power and authority for their own pleasure. On Kaua’i right now there seems to be an unbalance in that power and authority, and in what is in the best interest of our island. Not by those you’d think, but by those you don’t even see.

In the last few weeks I have received many phone calls and inquiries from reporters, officers, friends, family and strangers as to what is going on with the placing on leave of KPD Chief of Police Darryl Perry and two of his assistant chiefs. Because I have lived here for the last 24 years and have been a police commissioner the last seven years, it goes without saying I know enough people to receive the information on what is going on. Sadly, as it goes on Kaua’i, a good majority of people already know, and a bigger majority “thinks” they know. That’s how the coconut wireless runs.

There are whole truths, half truths, speculations, deductions and a bunch of “you know what I heard” garbage that cycles around, and one doesn’t know what they really are getting when the information is passed in circumstances like this. I will tell you that in this situation, enough people do know what is going on, and just because I may be one of them, that does not give me the right to pour it out here.

Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. File photos

The reality is: I know what I have been told and, truthfully, only those who are involved truly know the whole story.

What I will tell you is that I am saddened by it all and, in my opinion and this is simply that, my opinion the root causes of the problems all go back to that inability to wield power and authority in a manner worthy of what is in the best interest of Kaua’i.

It appears the roots are about evening old scores, spite, adults not acting like adults, and hanging someone out to dry simply because you have the ability to do so.

We all know the old adage: Two wrongs don’t make a right. And a wrong may have truly occurred, but to what degree the whip should extend and whom it should consume comes into question, and the motives behind it. This is on the lower levels of the issue I speak, at its inception, but what we are viewing publically is the end results at the top. But in a very litigious society, one with often very liberal interpretations of the law, when certain offenses occur people run for cover.

Past history has proven that if all the “t’s” weren’t crossed and the “i’s” weren’t dotted, someone is in trouble. Big business and governments have such a fear of being sued, they go into protection mode, shutting everything down. And really, you can’t blame them. As a commissioner in the early days, I was around for enough lawsuits involving KPD that it would make your head spin. I actually know half of the attorneys on Kaua’i because we as a commission had so many come in to guide and consult us, it wasn’t funny. But again, it had to be done. This case is no different. The mayor and his staff had to take actions that would prevent further problems and future lawsuits that may befall the county. If they took no action and they did get sued, the island would point the blame at the mayor as our leader and he would take the hit. After all, he is the mayor. And back to that powerand-authority issue, he has to make decisions that are in the best interest of Kaua’i.

Suspended Chief Darryl Perry

In this we face another dilemma: Who is in control of department heads within the county of Kaua’i who are hired and fired by a commission? Shouldn’t the mayor be in charge? Isn’t he? Well, yes, operationally he convenes staff meetings each week with all the department heads and sits as the head. That means he has the right to discipline and remove those department heads, right? That’s the question everyone is asking, and I don’t know the answer because I am not an attorney. It does pose an interesting question as to what is the mayor’s responsibility in regard to these department heads under his leadership as mayor. It is a complex issue.

Think for a moment if you were the general manager of a hotel and you called in all of your staff to have a meeting and wanted to implement a plan for each department to improve customer service. You asked each department to do a specific task, but the food and beverage manager, the head concierge and the front desk manager were hired under a commission, to which they directly answered, and those commissions only meet once a month. They are considered part of the hotel staff, get paid by the hotel, are insured by the hotel, but function separately and the department head accounts to a commission. If they disagree with you or are not going in the direction you need them to go, what are your options? The question then arises: If the discipline or lack thereof falls to the commission, isn’t the general manager hamstrung and unable to manage all aspects of the hotel? Is a once-a-month review by the commission enough oversight?

Now, in a converse scenario, there are no commissions. The general manager is new and has no operational skills or experience in food and beverage whatsoever. He is a rising star in the company, and everyone knows he is only there for four years and then on to another hotel. The food-and-beverage department has worked hard over the last four years under a great manager who has built the hotel’s restaurants and room service into great amenities that bring customers to the hotel and attract top chefs to work there. The GM, however, doesn’t care about that, but rather that the food-and-beverage manager didn’t support him when he was applying for the position. There was, however, a room-service employee who did support him. Now that he holds this position of authority, he wants to replace the food-and-beverage manager with this room-service employee who will do whatever he says. The fact that it will ruin everything, hurt morale and they will have to start all over again in another four years doesn’t matter to him at all. He just does what he wants because he has the power, and there is no check valve like a commission to deter him.

Both scenarios are simply examples of what “could” happen in a hypothetical situation. I don’t believe we are at these extremes, but it seems to parallel partially where we are in this current situation.

Herein lies our dilemma: How much authority does the mayor have and where does the police commission’s authority start and end? This is the bottomline question people seem to be asking.

Is the system broken in some way and does it need to be corrected? I don’t think so. I believe the system works when applied correctly and all parties can be served properly. The mayor as ex officio of all commissions has a built-in platform to speak and share his concerns at any commission meeting. The commissions are in place already as an outside authority to keep politics out of key positions that should not be politically manipulated. Both must be faithful to their cause and position.

So, who is right and who is wrong in this current situation? I believe neither, at this point, until these questions are rightly answered and they must be answered. That’s up to the legal authorities and their interpretation of the charter. What concerns me more is the fact that we have gotten to this point where we have had to ask our chief of police and two of his assistants to sit out. It’s a place we simply don’t need to be.

What hurts me personally, as a former commissioner who labored along with other commissioners over the years to install a good chief and right the course of the ship, is that the department has grown and blossomed so much in the last three or four years since Chief Perry arrived. I would not want the public to perceive these leaves of absences as a sign of going backwards. Nothing can be further from the truth. Looking at the department today, it’s clear to see morale has increased within the ranks, public complaints have dropped tremendously, key operational procedures and standards have been implemented, and the department is so far better off than it ever was.

The evolution of Kaua’i Police Department as a premier department is well in the works, and I am confident in the ability and loyalty of our men and women officers. We have great officers, most of whom are trying to make our island and our department a better place. And let us not forget, everything they do is at the risk of their lives, every day. During this time especially, I would encourage everyone to take the time when you see them and thank them for the work they are doing. It will make a huge difference.

So is everything perfect? No, of course not. Is the chief perfect; are his commanders perfect? Is the department itself perfect? No, of course not or you wouldn’t even be reading this. Do we have a few bad apples? Sure, who doesn’t? No organization is perfect.

But what we do have is a transformed department that is heading in a positive direction and already has made great strides to becoming a modern and equipped 21st century PD. In that, public confidence has been up, public support has been up and we are far better off than when I first walked in the door back in 2005. The progression and improvement have all come under these same leaders who have been asked to step down, as well as some of their counterparts. I have witnessed this personally all the way until my official term limit was up midway through January of this year.

With all that said, I fully support Mayor Bernard Carvalho, who as the leader of this county finds himself in troubled waters with the potential problems of lawsuits and litigation against the county if this situation is not handled right.

By the same token, I fully support Chief Perry, who has done an outstanding job as our chief of police and should be commended for his work thus far. Without a doubt, we needed Chief Perry. He stepped up to the plate few would readily embrace and navigated the ship through stormy waters into fair haven where it is wellanchored today.

Assistant Chief Quibilan and Assistant Chief Asher, both of whom I have seen nothing but professionalism and dedication from, are part of making the ship sail and achieving the goals we have reached. I wish I could speak of all the other fine leaders in the department and their hard work and dedication, but these are the men who have been unfortunately thrust into the limelight and the attention that lies here.

These three officers are men who do care and, in my opinion, their actions and motives are being wrongly accused, and the quicker this is resolved, the better for our island and our department. I stand behind them and their integrity. But they are just the top tiers of a problem whose inception, whose roots are deeper in many different ways.

When all is stripped away and peeled back, we will have to ask: Did it really need to go this far, or was it just opportunity and ability to extend the whip and cause hurt for the sake of doing so? Maybe it will all be buried in legal findings and judgments, and we may never know.

But as a pastor, I will tell you that God knows. In Him I will put my trust and pray the rights are wronged and truth prevails for all parties involved. This is in the best interest of Kaua’i.