- Special Projects
Twenty-five-thousand pepper spray projectiles for nearly $90,000. Eighteen-thousand units of bean bag ammunition for more than $60,000. Three-thousand Taser cartridges for another $60,000.
And a special, $13,000, long-range loudspeaker typically used to communicate authoritatively from a distance — for example from military helicopters to pirates at sea.
Those items are just a sampling of the Honolulu Police Department‘s lengthy shopping list in preparation for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this November. (We share the full list at the bottom of this article.)
In all, the department requested1 more than $700,000 in so-called “non-lethal” or “less-lethal” weapon technologies in the last two years, according to Civil Beat’s analysis of records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii under the state’s open records law. The ACLU provided Civil Beat with 42 pages of requests and invoices it received from the city.
“We’re very concerned that if HPD believes it’s in for a war, then officers will be hostile to all members of the public, even those who seek to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights,” Dan Gluck, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Hawaii, told Civil Beat.
The Honolulu Police Department rebuffed repeated attempts to discuss the issue.
“For security reasons, we’re pretty restricted in what we can say,” HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu told Civil Beat in an email. “I will forward your request to Assistant Chief (Greg) Lefcourt for his review.”
Lefcourt has been tabbed as the local police lead on APEC preparations. Each time the Honolulu City Council has discussed a pending request from HPD to allow the installation of 30 temporary surveillance cameras around town to bolster the APEC security effort, it’s been Lefcourt who has testified on behalf of the department.2 When we attempted to reach him via telephone, we were told he was out of town.
An email sent to Police Chief Louis Kealoha Thursday was not returned as of Sunday. A message left at his office Friday was also not returned, and Civil Beat was told he’s also off-island.
The APEC summit is scheduled to take over Honolulu from Nov. 8 through 13. Delegates from 21 countries — including, of course, United States President Barack Obama — will descend upon Waikiki and Ko Olina for meetings. In all, the summit could draw some 20,000 government and business leaders, their family and friends and 2,000 journalists.
But with no indication that the APEC summit will draw that type of violence, Gluck said the ACLU is focused more on how Honolulu handles peaceful protests.
“I think our biggest concern is that the officers receive proper training on how to use the new technologies and that there are guidelines in place to ensure they aren’t used cavalierly,” he said. “We are far more interested in having peaceful, uneventful demonstrations during APEC than we are with a lawsuit after the fact.”
Gluck cited the case of an animal rights protester arrested for distributing literature on a public sidewalk near a circus performance in Philadelphia. When she refused a police order to move further away from the circus, she was handcuffed, held for hours and cited for disorderly conduct, though she was later cleared of all charges.
A similar episode happened recently here in Honolulu, when police cited topless protestors on a Waikiki sidewalk for failing to obtain a permit. The ACLU has argued the citations represent a violation of First Amendment rights, and Gluck said the incident “shows that HPD has a long way to go in terms of training.”
In the Philadelphia incident, the ACLU’s settlement with the city included an agreement that officers would undergo extra free speech training — a relatively small price to pay. Any lawsuits filed against HPD for civil rights violations stemming from the inappropriate use of weapons during APEC could be very costly to Honolulu taxpayers, Gluck said.
To be clear, not all of the weapons on the list were purchased explicitly for APEC. Here’s the text of the open records request, according to the ACLU:
From November 1, 2009 to the present, all records evidencing the purchase, contract to purchase, or lease of any “non-lethal” or “less-lethal” weapons (e.g., Tasers), including but not limited to any impact weapon, sonic weapon, chemical agent, pepper ball, electronic restraint device, less lethal shotgun round, or any other weapon (other than firearms with traditional bullets) under HPD’s use-of-force policy.
In responding to this request, the only information we are seeking at this time relating to each item purchased, leased, or under contract to be purchased is the following: (1) the name and address of the vendor or contractor selling or leasing the item; (2) the name and quantity of the item or items purchased; (3) the amount expended for each item on a per item basis; and (4) the total amount expended for the entire order. Thus, at this time, we are not seeking records or information related to the technical capabilities or potential uses of the item, the manner in which they were advertised, the manner in which the item will be deployed, internal communications regarding these devices or the purchase thereof, or any other information related to their use or potential use.
The records reveal that HPD has requested more than $400,000 worth of non-lethal and less-lethal weapons technologies just since mid-April of this year. In other words, the department was prepared to spend more on those weapons in the last five months than it did in the 17 previous months.
But even if HPD had APEC in mind when it purchased the equipment, the city will likely have the weapons on hand for years. Some of the invoices from suppliers explicitly state that hazardous materials cannot be returned.
The purchases came from mainland weapons and ammunition distributors like Taser International, PepperBall Technologies and Safariland. The products feature names like “40mm Launchable CS spede-heat long range canister” and “SA200 PepperBall Launcher with high pressure 47 cubic inch bottle” and include a veritable Christmas holiday rainbow of smoke canisters — red, green and white.
Those are all types of aerosol technologies used to subdue rioters with smoke grenades and pepper spray dispersed through the air.
There are different weapons used to deliver non-lethal contact directly to a protester’s body — things like “instantaneous delivery rubber blast balls” and “bean-bag cartridges” and “40mm Stinger Rounds .60cal.”
There’s the Taser X26 — the city purchased 39 of those for $779.95 apiece. Accessories include 39 audio/video attachments at $411.95 apiece, 39 four-year extended customer care warranties for $184.95 apiece and 3000 “Taser 21 live cartridges (black with silver blastdoors)” for $20.95 each. Tasers use electric current to disable a people’s control of their muscles, incapacitating them so they can be taken into police custody.
Gluck said it’s encouraging that HPD purchased cameras for use with each of its Taser stun guns. Cameras can record the events leading up to the deployment of the weapon, and could help ensure that the Tasers are used appropriately — in place of a lethal weapon to avoid serious danger for an officer, not as a way to punish unresponsive or disrespectful, but peaceful, protesters.
This week, Civil Beat will file an open records request to obtain HPD’s use-of-force policy.
And, finally, there’s the “LRAD” — Long Range Acoustic Device — from MSC Industrial Supply. The city purchased 10 LRAD 100X systems for $6,042 each, plus another 10 wireless control systems ($2,918 each), 10 spare batteries ($500 each) and 10 carrying bags ($344 each). Add to that one LRAD 300X system ($13,043) and the accompanying tripod mount ($1,137) and the police department has spent more than $100,000 on acoustic equipment alone.
But these top-of-the-line speakers won’t be used to broadcast an Obama speech in 21 languages simultaneously or to blast bass-heavy dance music at one of APEC’s Waikiki social gatherings. The manufacturer’s website explains that the LRAD technology can be used for crowd control from a distance. The heavy-duty speakers can “hail” clearly and loudly from hundreds of yards away despite ambient noise, keeping law enforcement safe.
The classic example of LRAD’s capabilities is the delivery of instructions to ships across open water, above the din created by wind, waves and engines.
Gluck said LRADs are not intended to be used on peaceful protesters at close proximity.
Just last week, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh after a bystander suffered permanent hearing loss when police deployed an LRAD during the 2009 G-20 summit.
Here is Civil Beat’s analysis of the records provided to the ACLU. The table can be sorted by any of the columns by clicking on the header of that column.
And here is the source document, provided to Civil Beat by the ACLU of Hawaii:
Some requested weapons were not listed on any invoice included in the records provided to Civil Beat, so it’s not clear if the weapons were ever paid for or delivered. Six such items requested in 2010 from Security Equipment had an aggregate cost of $143,983. None of those missing items requested last year is named in this article, though they are included in the table at the bottom of the story and are factored into the $700,000 total for all requested items. Other weapons were requested less than two weeks before the records were provided to the ACLU, so no invoices appear in the records. Questions about missing items were submitted via email to the Honolulu Police Department, which declined to comment for this story.
The ACLU of Hawaii voiced its opposition to the surveillance camera proposal in written testimony to the City Council. Read one citizen’s thoughts in a Civil Beat opinion piece titled “Video Monitoring in Honolulu — “Safety” at What Price?”