Thousands of Honolulu police guns are being replaced after decades on the job, but what happens to all the old weapons?
The gun swap is about half-way done, with about 1,000 officers carrying brand-new duty pistols.
But with the fate of the retired weapons in limbo, money for the rest of the guns also could be. KHON2 went looking for answers so the whole conversion can stay on pace.
All 2,000 Honolulu police officers are supposed to be carrying new Glock semi-automatic guns by the end of a three-year transition that started this year.
“We want to start with the patrol officers and then we’re going to start with support services then move up to the chief ranks,” explained Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, “so the chiefs are going to be the last ones to get the Glocks.”
As for the old weapons, “we didn’t really make any decisions about what we’re going to do with the weapons yet,” Kealoha said.
That could end up costing time, at least when it comes to finishing the transition. HPD still needs future Honolulu City Council approval for $1.2 million — two more rounds of about $600,000 in the each of the next two years.
Most agree the old Smith & Wesson guns, which have been used since 1990, are still valuable.
“I’ve asked them during budget sessions how much are we getting back,” said Honolulu City Council budget committee chair Ann Kobayashi. “I just don’t know what will happen, but we definitely should benefit. The police department should try to get back either on a trade-in or get something or recycle and get paid for the metal.”
When asked if the lack of a resolution casts a shadow on future requests, Kobayashi said, “It certainly does. We don’t want to keep buying guns not knowing what happened to the old guns, and we don’t want them just laying around.”
KHON2 News asked the police chief if he can accelerate the decision so that future funding installments aren’t delayed. The chief said safety will be the most important factor.
“First thing when we speak about weapons is public safety,” Kealoha said. “We don’t want those weapons falling into the wrong hands. The second one may be finances.
“We discussed about all the different options,” he added. “Sell them back, sell them back to the officers, or just trade them back in to the Smith & Wesson manufacturer. All of those options are still on the table right now.”
Will Smith & Wesson still take them from HPD even though Honolulu decided to buy Glocks instead?
“Even we’re not sure about that. That’s why the options that we have, that’s one of the discussion points that we’re discussing to see whether or not they’re even going to take it back,” Kealoha said. “We don’t know right now.”
KHON2 checked with all the other island counties, state sheriffs, and even state conservation officers. None want the old guns or parts.
Kauai, Maui and the Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement (DOCARE) have already moved onto the Glocks. The Big Island uses Smith & Wesson but says they’re considering new guns, too. State sheriffs use the same model Smith & Wesson as the HPD guns being phased out, but they have no interest in any of the guns or parts from Honolulu.
There are some who would take them. The police force in American Samoa is rearming after decades without guns.
American Samoa is counting on a donation from Honolulu. Their commissioner met the chief during a visit to Honolulu, heard about the new gun plans and says he asked Kealoha to consider the favor of a donation.
“I have not gotten the weapons yet,” American Samoa Police Commissioner Bill Haleck said. “I am still working with Chief Kealoha on the matter. He wrote to me and said that yes he is still willing to transfer the weapons over to me but they are still having a slow transition to the Glocks and so it’s going to take a little while longer until that transition is complete.”
Haleck says he’s hoping for a few hundred of Honolulu’s old guns.
“The donation is very helpful to our department,” Haleck said. “It will save us a bunch of money without having the government of American Samoa come out of pocket $400-$500.”
Haleck is referring to the cost of the new Glocks, just like Honolulu’s, that American Samoa bought a couple dozen of meanwhile.
“I did that just in case something fell through on (Honolulu’s) part,” Haleck said. “At least we’ll be able to get some weapons to start our program with. I just fear for the safety of our officers because of changing times and some of the criminal elements we’re facing here in the islands, as well as illegal guns that are on the streets here.”
KHON2 asked Chief Kealoha, will American Samoa still be able to get that donation?
“Because the final determination hasn’t been made, we’re really not sure. That’s an option that we’re looking at as well as several different options,” Kealoha said.
“Samoa is a great place, but did the city decide it goes to Samoa?” Kobayashi said. “Definitely we want to know, because we could be getting a trade-in, recycling. There are lots of options where the city could benefit.”
So who makes the decision on the fate of the old guns, and when will it happen?
“That’s really tough to say, because we have over 2,000 guns and that’s a lot of weapons. How long is it going to take? I’m unsure because when we do make the final decision, we want to make sure it’s the right decision, so I cannot give you a timeline on that,” Kealoha said. “As far as who makes the decision, it’s based on people in the city as well as the police department.”
Whatever HPD ends up wanting to do — sell, donate, trade-in or anything else — it will have to go through the city’s budget and finance department for approval and processing, and in some cases, the council may even have to vote on it.
KHON2 will stay on top of the progress so the gun modernization, with a safe alternative for the old guns, can finish on time and on budget.