Lā 261: Lawmakers question plan to buy 20 semi-automatic rifles for conservation officers

Hawaiʻi News Now Posted: Dec 11, 2015 12:15 PM HST Updated: Dec 11, 2015 4:11 PM HST By Mileka Lincoln

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Lawmakers are questioning a plan to spend nearly on $60,000 on semi-automatic rifles and shotguns for state conservation officers.

The state Land Board unanimously approved the request in its meeting Friday.

Jason Redulla, acting chief of the state's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, asked for $57,350 to buy 20 semi-automatic rifles and 10 12-gauge shotguns.

Redulla said in a written proposal that "these firearms will provide the necessary officers safety while working in remote areas alone and the public safety in response to distress calls, and various conservation law enforcement duties in support of DOCARE's mission."

DOCARE didn't say where these firearms would be issued.

At least two state legislators are critical of the request, questioning why conservation officers would need such high-powered weaponry.

"Could you please explain why your officers would need semi-automatic weapons? I know the job of law enforcement can be dangerous. However, I am not aware of situations in the past where DLNR officers were outgunned or in need of more fire power," state Sen. Will Espero wrote in an email to Land Board Chairwoman Suzanne Case.

In an email to Hawaii News Now, state Rep. Kaniela Ing said that DOCARE's main mission "is to stop overfishing, and they already carry hand guns."

He added, "We need to ask what are they planning on using them on? Police militarization in violent urban cores is one thing, but this proposal stands against Hawaii's culture of peace and aloha."

DOCARE is charged with protecting, conserving and managing natural, cultural and historic resources in the state.

The unit was thrust into the headlines this year following clashes with those protesting the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. DOCARE officers participated in crowd control and made arrests, alongside police, because of their mandate to protect conservation areas, including Mauna Kea.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources also points out that DOCARE officers have also been involved in other types of enforcement actions, including citing residents for having undersized fish, arresting tour guides for illegal commercial tours within natural area reserves, and arresting residents for drinking alcohol in the Ahu o Laka safety zone (also known as the Kaneohe Sandbar) in Kaneohe Bay.


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