By Greg Grisolano
ARCADIA, Kan. — Mark Hunsaker says love of his boyhood home prompts him to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on planes to commute from Honolulu to Arcadia, where he serves as a part-time police officer on weekends.
But he won’t elaborate on his motives and hasn’t answered questions from citizens in the Crawford County community of 400 about his role as a peace officer, beyond saying, “A lot of communities have part-time law enforcement.”
Pressed for details, he said: “The Arcadia Police Department will have no comment.”
Hunsaker — an accountant and former volunteer commissioner with the Honolulu Police Commission — also won’t say how much he has spent on plane tickets, gas, hotel accommodations and out-of-pocket travel expenses associated with the 9,600-mile round trip he has made at least once a month since July 2007. Nor will he say how much of his own money has been spent equipping himself with a uniform, badge, gun and other law-enforcement equipment. While he does draw a yearly salary of $100 from the city of Arcadia, city officials say Hunsaker donates those funds back.
Ditto for Hunsaker’s friend Ralph Black, who has served as a part-time police officer for Arcadia since last September. Like Hunsaker, Black, a tax attorney from Hilo, Hawaii, has spent an unknown amount of his own money on travel expenses, and to purchase and outfit a police car.
Black has no known ties to Arcadia, beyond his friend Hunsaker.
Folks in Arcadia say it’s strange the city has two part-time cops making a commute from Hawaii to patrol the streets of their small town once or twice a month.
“I think they’re playing hobby cops,” said Kristina Stansbury.
Steve Lechliter, another Arcadia resident, wonders about city liability should Hunsaker or Black become involved in an accident or injure someone in the line of duty.
“I think the city of Arcadia is liable,” he said. “God forbid these two guys come over here and hurt somebody or shoot somebody and take the city to a bath.”
Residents aren’t the only people who have taken an interest in the jet-setting cops. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is looking into the purchase and resale of state vehicles to Hunsacker and Black, according to Crawford County Sheriff Sandy Horton.
“The KBI does have some investigations going on into the area, but I would be unable to comment on them,” said Wiley Kerr, assistant KBI director.
Located less than one mile from the Missouri border, Arcadia was once a thriving community of more than 1,500 people. At one time, it boasted its own newspaper, bank and furniture store. Hunsaker’s family owned Dunton’s Furniture Store for generations, until the business folded in the 1980s. Neighbors said Hunsaker lived in the town for several years as a youth before moving south to Pittsburg and ultimately Hawaii.
Both the town’s fortunes and its population have fallen. A pair of donkeys grazed recently in the front yard of what was once Brick Mountain, a two-story brick building that served as the town’s elementary school, and later as an artists’ enclave and community center.
The town’s only remaining business is The Little Bearcat Cafe at 107 E. Arcadia St., owned by longtime resident Bill Bridgewater.
Bridgewater is among those who believe the town isn’t reaping any benefits from Hunsaker and Black’s patrols.
“Oh, no, if you need help you call the county (sheriff) anyway,” he said. “When they’re here anyway, you never see them around. They were here last week and drove through town once.”
According to Bob Moore, the city’s other part-time law officer and the custodian of police records, neither Hunsaker nor Black has issued a single citation nor made an arrest since they began serving.
“We’re a small town,” he said. “We probably haven’t made an arrest in over a year.”
The town’s former mayor, Jack Payne, who served from 2001 until 2007, when he lost to write-in candidate and current mayor Paul Starne, said he too is bothered by the presence of out-of-town law enforcement.
“One of my neighbors calls them ‘Hawaii Five-0’ and now they’re playing ‘Kansas Three-4,’” he said, referring to the fact that Kansas was the 34th state in the union. He said the whole thing is something of a joke.
“If he (Hunsaker) actually wrote a ticket, he couldn’t go to court unless he flew back over. It’s just silly,” Payne said.
“They (Hunsaker and Black) bought all the gear, and they dress up, they’ve even got their pictures up at City Hall,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re playing out some childhood fantasy or not. Nobody can figure it out.”
Starne contends the services provided by the two commuting cops are valuable.
“The cars that they purchased cost the city zero dollars,” he said.
Hunsaker completed part-time law enforcement certification at the state of Kansas academy in May of 2008, and according to documents from the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training, Black is enrolled in the spring 2009 class.
Part-time law-enforcement officers can be certified for up to one year without having completed training, provided they are enrolled in the next available course, according to Steve Culp, director of KSCPOST. He also said the state does not mandate residency requirements for part-time officers, although some local jurisdictions do have that option.
Arcadia Councilman Lou Dehn said he supports having Hunsaker and Black in the community because it doesn’t cost the city anything.
“They bought their own guns, their own bullet-proof vests,” he said. “When they come to town they take the cars to Arma or Pittsburg and fill them up with gas. They pay for their own hotel rooms. We pay for absolutely nothing.”
Dehn also said he does not find the travel arrangements of the two men unusual, and that he has had conversations with Hunsaker, who told him that he schedules trips to Arcadia around other business.
“He’s got meetings all over the country,” Dehn said. “So when he comes to town, he schedules it so he has a weekend and can zip over here. It’s not an exclusive, ‘Oh, I think I’ll jump on a plane and go to Arcadia.’”
Hunsaker would not confirm those details for the Globe.
Cars in question
Arcadia Councilwoman Lilly Mae Coonrod said it was in the spring of 2007 that she first began noticing long-distance calls to Hawaii showing up on the city’s telephone bill.
“I started seeing phone calls to Honolulu,” she said. “I think it was the June meeting where he introduced Mark Hunsaker to the council.”
Coonrod said Hunsaker was introduced as a police commissioner who offered to help the city write grants to get funds for a police vehicle.
“He zeroed in on the Police Department, and we could use everything,” she said. “I thought that was wonderful. But then he said he needed to be employed to help us out. He knew we didn’t have any money, so he offered to work for one dollar a year, and he said he would return the dollar.”
Coonrod said she contacted Sheriff Horton in November 2008 to get his opinion about the situation.
Horton said he has met with both Hunsaker and Starne and urged them to maintain transparency with the council.
Horton also said that despite the presence of Hunsaker and Black, the Sheriff’s Department handles the bulk of the 911 calls in Arcadia.
“They’re not putting in a lot of hours,” he said. “We’re responding to probably 99.9 percent of all the calls that are in Arcadia.”
According to records obtained through the department, the Sheriff received 93 calls for law enforcement in Arcadia in 2008. Of those, 79 calls were answered by deputies, 10 were answered by Arcadia police, including Moore and another officer who is no longer with the department, and four were answered by both agencies. The majority of calls involved domestic disturbances, fights and checking the welfare of an individual.
City records also indicate Hunsaker reimbursed the city with a check for $15,400 when the city purchased a 2007 patrol car from a state vehicle pool in June of 2007. Black made similar arrangements when he purchased the same type of vehicle last year.
Black also declined to comment for this story, but the Globe obtained a copy of a letter he sent Mayor Starne in December 2008, to “clarify the facts regarding privately owned police cars, which provide a benefit to the City of Arcadia and its community.”
Black wrote that the need for a better police car first became apparent when the city’s only patrol car began to have problems because of age and use. That vehicle is now parked in front of the mayor’s house.
Black stated that Hunsaker “drew upon his experience as a police commissioner” in Honolulu to develop a plan to meet the city’s needs.
“In the Honolulu Police Department ... officers use their privately owned police cars for their on-duty police work and receive a ‘car allowance,’ which assists them to pay for insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.,” he said in the letter.
The cars themselves do not stay in Arcadia while Hunsaker and Black are in Hawaii. When not in use by the officers, they are parked at the home of the other part-time officer, Bob Moore, in Girard.
“We have no place to put the cars,” Starne said. “They stay in Girard.”
Starne said the arrangement between the city and the men stipulates that all expenses, including insurance, be paid for by Hunsaker and Black.
“We give them $100 a year, and they donate it back,” Starne said, adding that his decision to hire the two men stems from a desire to provide some form of public safety presence for the elderly residents in the community.
“This is about the people in this town, who mean something.”
But officials with the Kansas Insurance Commission and the Kansas League of Municipalities differ on whether the city is exposing itself to a lawsuit.
Kim Winn, an attorney for the league, said state tort laws impose a $500,000 cap on liability claims against municipalities, provided city workers are “appropriately trained and certified.”
“The city would only be liable if (the employee) were found to be grossly negligent in terms of the particular incident,” she said. “If the individuals are appropriately trained, appropriately certified, it really has no bearing on where they live. Legally, the Hawaii issue is sort of irrelevant.”
But Bob Hanson, a spokesman with the Kansas Insurance Commission, said there could be “numerous” liability issues the city is exposing itself to.
“From a consumer standpoint, the question would be if the officers’ insurance companies knew that their personal vehicles were being used for law-enforcement activity,” he said. “That would probably require a separate endorsement on their policies. The idea also occurs that if those volunteers were injured, would their personal injury protection coverage be valid? Our thought from your information is no.”
Trouble in paradise
According to reports from the Honolulu Advertiser, Hunsaker was investigated for allegedly impersonating a police officer and carrying a weapon without a permit in 2006. The reports state that Hunsaker was doing a “ride-along” with Honolulu police as they were attempting to execute a search of a suspected illegal cockfight. Hunsaker was still serving as a volunteer police commissioner at the time, and did not resign until Jan. 5 of this year.
Hunsaker was never charged with any wrongdoing, according to an official with the Honolulu prosecutors office, but the case could be reopened.
“We declined to pursue the case, because we didn’t believe we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Jim Fulton, an assistant to the prosecutor. “The statute of limitations has not run out on this type of an offense. There is always the possibility that if additional evidence came in, we could possibly reopen the case.”
Hunsaker resigned from the commission earlier this year in part because of his traveling to Arcadia, according to Christine Camp, chairwoman of the Honolulu Police Commission.
“He must love the place that he’s from obviously, but it’s not breaking any laws,” she said. “It must be an effort of love.”
Camp said the commission members are appointed to the seven-member committee by the mayor, and their primary purpose is to hire a police chief and review standards and budget issues for the department. She said commissioners are civilians, and do not have any police power, and that after Hunsaker’s incident, the commission did make policy changes concerning ride-alongs.
“One of the changes was we don’t wear a badge, we wear identification with a photo,” she said. “We decided to limit them on ride-alongs. It was getting too frequent for some people.”
In the meantime, the people of Arcadia are left wondering.
Lechliter said he plans to challenge Starne for mayor when the city holds municipal elections in April.
“Basically the more I got into this, the more I thought there needed to be some changes at City Hall,” he said.
Horton said he believes the city of Arcadia faces a problem common to most towns of its size: finding the financial resources to pay for adequate law enforcement.
“You get in today’s world what you pay for,” he said. “I’m not saying anything negative about the individual officers, but if they can’t pay a full-time officer a decent wage, they’re not going to hire a decent officer to work full time.”
For his part, Payne said he hopes that the city will eventually be made to give the citizens an explanation.
“I want the why to come out,” he said. “And I want the people in this town to just know what took place. Most people absolutely don’t care. But when you pay taxes here, and you belong to this community, you really should want it to be successful.”
Arcadia Councilman Dehn said he doesn’t question the motives of Hunsaker and Black, nor does he have concerns about the duo.
“What (the rich) do makes no sense to us. We couldn’t do it,” he said. “And yet moneywise, the next day in interest on money in the bank already took care of (the expenses). It’s a total different world.”
By Greg Grisolano