What’s up with a state Hummer?

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If you saw a state worker driving around in a fancy car with government plates, you might wonder what’s happening to your tax dollars. When that happened recently in Hawaii, KHON2 found out why.

Assets of the state Sheriff’s Division tend to be older vehicles, so imagine a taxpayer’s surprise when they’re driving down the road on the H-2 Highway with a state license plate on it.

Before guzzling gas went out of fashion the 2004 Hummer must have been quite the status symbol for a drug dealer who had the toy taken away in a Drug Enforcement Administration raid. Sheriffs got it as a thanks for their help and lately it’s been spotted out on the road — with a state plate that has made some drivers behind it cringe.

“I definitely think they’re going to question why a hummer is out there and what the purpose of a Hummer would be for a state employee,” State Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Shawn Tsuha said. “One, it’s free. Two, we wanted to utilize it correctly and three because of the size, there’s a purpose-built radio interoperable package that’s going to go into the vehicle.”

The radio that Tsuha referring to, is a $70,000 federal grant-buy they plan to stick in the Hummer to help in things like disaster response.

“Learning from the Superferry incidents, learning from other incidents, we need packages that are small that can be put on a Hawaii Air National Guard C-17 and deployed to maybe Kauai or maybe Maui or maybe the Big Island,” Tsuha said.

It’ll soon have a sheriff sticker and event lights on top.

The Hummer has had a bit of an identity crisis — seized from one drug dealer, it found itself on the flip side of the law originally without state plates.

“When we initially had the Hummer we used it as a surveillance vehicle,” Tsuha said. “In the operation unfortunately the bad guys discerned it was a law enforcement vehicle and that’s the reason why we parked it.”

Parked for five years in a warehouse, then they came up with the radio idea.

“So that’s the reason why we actually put state license plates on it,” Tsuha said. “We weren’t trying to have any kind of subterfuge or anything like that. I authorized the vehicle to be driven to identify any maintenance issues.”

It’s been being driven by a sheriff lieutenant for weeks and maintenance issues are aplenty.

Tsuha lists them: “The battery was dead…the engine needed to be flushed, the spark plugs… we have a knock… it has a check-engine light… two broken head bolts…the fuel was really bad. We had to burn the tank, just drive it around.”

It’s been spotted as far west as the lieutenant’s home in Ewa Beach as far east as the Koko Head firing range. The lieutenant driver is in charge of the sheriff’s firearms section and take-home permissions are allowed in the department.

“We had our pickup truck break down, we needed something else to get out to the firearms range,” Tsuha said. “So I said let’s kill 2 birds with one stone — bring the Hummer out, run the Hummer, find what the problem.”

“You’ve got this car that’s in kind of bad shape, is this the right vehicle to put a $70,000 radio on?” KHON2 asked.

“We thought about that but once again I would say to the taxpayer, would they want me to spend $30,000 to $40,000 on a four-wheel drive vehicle the state doesn’t have as opposed to utilizing something we received for nothing?” Tsuha said.

KHON2 asked how much the gas is going to cost.

“The gas bill is going to be minimal because once again it’s an all-hazards response vehicle so we might take it out for an exercise one a year,” Tsuha said.

If and when the Hummer’s problems finally get the best of it, that $70,000 radio can be moved to another vehicle, if they happen to get their hands on another four-wheel drive.

Drug dealers, you’ve been warned.

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