Lava Eruption Impact on Hawai'i County Police

May 21, 2018

Credit Dave Corrigan / Big Island Video News

Hawai'i County personnel are being stretched thin by the demands of the current lava eruption. Hawai'i County Police Department has 450 sworn officers. Those serving in the Puna district are working overtime to handle the demands of both the lava flow and regular duties. HPR contributing reporter Sherry Bracken talked with the police chief to find out how they are coping.

Hawai'i County Police Chief Paul Ferreira says police officers are working overtime to handle the roadblocks as well as regular duty.  

Chief: “We are operating as normal, crimes are still being investigated, we are still responding to all calls for service. We have made our Puna Patrol Division switch to 12 hour shifts. We send officers from South Hilo to augment the patrol division in Puna to work at the road blocks, to work at the roving patrols in the community, and that allows the patrol officers in Puna to respond to regular calls for service. We are using our investigators from the detectives division, our vice, our juvenile aid, and our adult crime division. We also have members of the Hawai'i Army National Guard and the DLNR.”

Police Chief Ferreira said they have had reports and arrests for 6 burglaries — plus two people from out of area arrested for running roadblocks. One person was arrested but not charged for operating a drone. Chief Ferreira said rumors of crime are not helpful.

Chief: “The public needs to report the crimes to the police, not to social media. Reports of looting, squatters in homes, homes being vandalized, but we don’t get those reports. People need to tell us about it. The worst thing happening is, misinformation, which leads to more panic, more anxiety. “

Credit U.S. Geological Survey

The last major eruption in the Leilani Estates Subdivision along Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone in 1955 lasted nearly 3 months. Scientists say the current eruption may end sooner, or may go on longer. A question is whether the police can keep up the pace. Chief Ferreira:

“If you go back to 1983, we had the lava flow in Kalapana. At the time I was a patrol officer in Puna and we worked 12 on 12 off for months, with no days off. So can we sustain it? Yes, we can, we will do what’s necessary to ensure the safety of the community.”