A bill that would clarify the definition of an undercover police officer and potentially allow the Honolulu Police Department to keep the names of its entire force secret appears dead.
House Bill 1200 did not advance out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and was deferred. The measure would have changed the public records law, requiring that government agencies make undercover officers’ names public only after the officer has “ceased to be involved in an undercover capacity for at least five years.”
Under current law, the name and salary of a police officer is public, except for “present or former employees involved in an undercover capacity in a law enforcement agency.” Honolulu’s police union has claimed to Civil Beat that every officer should be covered by the exemption because almost all had worked at least one day in a plainclothes capacity. Under HB 1200, it would have been possible for the entire police force to remain secret, as long as every officer spent a single day working undercover every five years.
The bill is one of several that sought to hide the salaries of public workers after Civil Beat last year requested the names and salaries of city and state employees. Except for HPD, all state agencies and the rest of Honolulu government complied.
House Bill 1094, which would have taken the names of all government workers out of the public record, appears dead after the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on it on Monday.
To date, Honolulu has refused to release police officers’ names and salaries to Civil Beat, saying it is concerned about lawsuits from officers who claim their privacy has been violated. The department said this bill was an attempt to clarify which names it could release.
While the department makes the privacy argument in responding to public records requests from Civil Beat, it has admitted that it routinely publishes the names and photographs of officers, without doing any research into whether they are current or former undercover officers.
Police Chief Louis Kealoha told Civil Beat he would ask the Legislature to define undercover. Enter HB 1200 and its Senate companion bill, SB 1376, which has not had a hearing.
The Office of Information Practices in its comments on HB 1200 said it found the terms “undercover officer” and “undercover capacity” self-explanatory and recommended they be stripped from the bill. The office also said it was confused about the intent of the bill and expressed concern that the five-year undercover provision actually weakened existing protections for undercover officers.
Only HPD and the Maui Police Department submitted testimony in support of the bill. HPD Maj. Kurt Kendro was the lone law enforcement representative at the hearing. He read HPD’s short statement of support:
The Honolulu Police Department supports House Bill 1200. The bill limits the disclosure of names and salaries of undercover officers and defines the terms “undercover capacity” and “undercover officer.” While we support the release of appropriate information, the disclosure of public employee names in relation to their salaries does not serve a meaningful public purpose.
Kendro left the room after House members said they had no questions.
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