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The Honolulu City Council isn’t about to stand in the way — despite some lingering First Amendment concerns.
The Committee on Safety, Economic Development and Government Affairs on Tuesday gave the green light to a request from the police that, if approved by the full Council, would allow the installation of more than 30 new surveillance cameras.
“We will have the eyes of the world on us,” Committee Chair Tulsi Gabbard said in recommending the resolution’s approval.
Gabbard, a captain in the National Guard who has served in Iraq, later told Civil Beat she sees the police department’s purchase of thousands of non-lethal and less-lethal weapons like Tasers, rubber bullets, bean bag cartridges and special high-powered loudspeakers not as preparations for war but rather as necessary tools to ensure safety and security.
The police department’s presentation to the Committee included a powerpoint slideshow displaying law enforcement activities at past APEC summits. In 2008, Lima, Peru, saw 110,000 police officers and 90,000 mobilized soldiers. A year later in Singapore, already-strict protest laws were tightened further and permits required for demonstrations were not issued. Last year in Yokohama, Japan, 21,000 police officers surrounded protesters on all sides to make sure no issues arose.
HPD Major Clayton Kau, on the department’s APEC planning group, explained that existing city ordinances specifically restrict HPD from viewing private activities and locations, and said the cameras won’t be equipped with microphones so won’t be able to pick up conversations. He told the committee and confirmed to Civil Beat afterward that the cameras’ default mode will be just for observation, and that footage will be recorded only if a supervising officer determines that a crime is taking place.
The presentation also included more detailed locations for the new cameras in Waikiki, downtown/Chinatown and Ko Olina. HPD will provide public notice when the cameras will be installed, and they will be clearly marked, Kau said.
“For me it’s a very important balance that has to be reached to make sure that we successfully host this event and make sure that these 21 world leaders and their members of their parliaments or whatever it may be who are coming here are welcomed and are kept safe during their time here,” Gabbard told Civil Beat in an interview after the meeting. “Balancing that very important need along with the equally important need to protect and secure the residents here in the City and County of Honolulu, our other visitors here who have nothing to do with APEC, as well as the First Amendment rights of those who wish to express their opinions on whatever they are concerned about during APEC, and making sure that that’s not inhibited in any way.
“Today we addressed a very specific and narrow issue and concern with the use of these cameras, both during APEC and how they will be used after. So, by passing today’s resolution, we are stating clearly and publicly that HPD has addressed the concerns that we have with this specific use of cameras,” she said.
“The ideal of civil rights is great, we need to protect that, but on the other hand I think the risk of public safety is real and I believe that HPD needs these tools to ensure the safety of Honolulu residents as well as APEC participants,” Harimoto said.
Chang rejected the idea of “blanket” surveillance raised by opposing testimony submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. Chang said the resolution authorizes video monitoring for a limited time at limited locations — “not what London has.”
Not all Committee members were satisfied.
Tom Berg said he had remaining concerns about the need for cameras and that protesters should feel free to express themselves without worrying about being “tagged” on camera. He even brought up the infamous secret files maintained by longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
But Berg said he really wants the new cameras, purchased partially with federal funds, to be available for future traffic use on the Leeward Coast. He said he intends to introduce future resolutions to that effect. The Department of Information Technology has already made clear that the new cameras would be used by the police temporarily during APEC from Nov. 8 to Nov. 13 before being turned over to the transportation department.
Former Council Chair Nestor Garcia cast the lone vote in opposition. He raised the specter of a “chilling effect” on protester’s civil rights.
“I don’t see any reason why we should be deploying cameras at this point,” he said. “We will have people on the ground … to monitor activity. I trust the men and women who will be in those positions to be surveil what activities that they’re interested in, rather than having to deploy cameras.”
The supporters said that the cameras are merely one piece of the police department’s APEC preparations, and that officers will still be on the ground. They’re right.
Civil Beat reported Monday that the department has requested more than $700,000 in non-lethal and less-lethal weapons in the past two years, more than half of that total in the last five months.
The department explained purchases in a written statement provided to Civil Beat Tuesday.
“Honolulu has a long history of lawful and nonviolent protests, and we are hopeful this will continue. The HPD respects the right to legally demonstrate, and we make no distinction as to the purpose, message or intent of any group exercising this right,” Capt. Andy Lum of the Public Information Office said in the statement. “While we expect protests to be peaceful, the department must be prepared for all situations. As a law enforcement agency, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone’s safety and rights are protected. This applies to protestors and members of the public alike.
“The HPD regularly purchases less lethal equipment and supplies for training and normal operations. Last year the City Council approved supplemental funding for APEC preparations to include necessary supplies for training our officers. Unused supplies will be kept for future training and operations,” he said.
Asked in an interview if she felt those weapons were necessary, Gabbard said HPD “has a good track record” and that its officers “are professionals and they’re going through very extensive training on how to deal with every different situation.”
“I think that anytime you have the leaders of 21 nations meeting in one location, there is a possibility of anything happening, from A to Z, and I think that HPD and the other security forces are planning for all scenarios,” she said. “In my view, they have to be prepared for every situation. We don’t get a second chance at this.”
Asked specifically about concerns raised by the ACLU 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,” Gabbard disagreed.
“I see this as a tool and not HPD preparing for war,” she said.
“To say that we are overall endorsing everything HPD is doing, I would not be able to say that because I don’t know in detail everything that they will be doing. There are concerns that have been raised and ongoing conversations and HPD has been very responsive in answering those questions.”
Gabbard said she intends to include a discussion-only item on her next committee meeting agenda to help shed light on preparations for APEC, specifically including security zones and possibly other HPD policies and procedures. She said the discussion would provide information to both “normal residents going about their business as well as people with a specific interest in APEC.”
Asked if the committee can change the police department’s course on any of those policies, Gabbard said: “With the force of law, at this point, no. With the timing that we have and just the ability that we have on our committee, we cannot, we wouldn’t be able to. We can make requests and see how they’re taken and follow up with that. But public awareness is really what we’re able to do at this point. Saying that, HPD has been very responsive with us in addressing the concerns that have been brought up so far.”