Police disciplinary records are supposed to be released when an officer is discharged. But getting those records can be tough — and so expensive that most people likely can’t afford it — as Civil Beat has learned in researching this special report.

We asked for the disciplinary files for nine Honolulu Police Department officers discharged between 2000 and 2011. But HPD told us those records had been destroyed.

Disciplinary records are only kept for 30 months, we were told, although it can be longer if a disciplinary decision has been appealed or if the information is under subpoena. It’s still not clear to us why discharge files from 2010 and 2011 are no longer in existence.

On Jan. 8, Honolulu’s 2012 annual summary of misconduct filed with the Legislature became available. On Jan. 8, we filed a public records request with HPD for the disciplinary reports of three officers listed as being discharged that year.

HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu responded to our Jan. 9 records request on Jan. 18. She had the discharge letters for the three — officers James Easely, Shayne Souza and Michael Tarmoun. The letters are only two to three pages each, and we paid $2.75 for them.

Yu also told us more complete disciplinary files were available. On Jan. 25, we got an estimate from HPD for the files: $2,008.75.

That included $1,600 to review and redact reports. HPD estimated 80 hours of work at $20 an hour.

It would cost another $406. 25 to make copies of an estimated 1,622 pages. Add on $2.50 to search for the records, only a 15-minute job, the department said.

HPD wanted half down as a deposit so on Jan. 28 we delivered a check for $1,004.

So far, we’ve gotten only seven pages, from Michael Tarmoun’s disciplinary file. They have been redacted to exclude Tarmoun’s address, badge number and date of appointment. Also blacked out are details about investigators’ attempts to locate Tarmoun during the investigation and the initials of officers who approved the memos.

We’ve asked HPD to cite the specific law under which it is claiming an exemption from public disclosure.

We’ve also asked for a detailed accounting of the cost of producing these records once the job is done.

As part of our investigation, we asked the four counties — Honolulu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii — for the names of police officers who had been charged with a crime. We also wanted to know how many officers were still on the force after being disciplined for misconduct.

And we wanted to know how many disciplinary actions stem from county police commission investigations since lawmakers and others believe the commissions play a critical role in oversight of misconduct.

HPD told us it didn’t track that information. Neither does Hawaii County.

Maui Prosecuting Attorney John Kim told us that Maui County doesn’t keep a list of police officers who have been prosecuted by his office. Since there’s no list, he can’t say what police officers have been prosecuted in Maui County. In a certified letter, he also said that he didn’t have anyone on staff available to research the request.

Kauai Deputy County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask said the answers would cost us at least $7,250.65. That would buy us an estimated 95 hours of work by two county personnel who would be assigned to our records request.

Kauai wants $3,700 up front. And the final cost could increase, Trask said.

“If you still want to pursue this request, we would try to get the requested ten years worth of information; however we cannot guarantee that it’s there and that would probably increase the fee,” Trask said. “Please let me know if you are still interested in proceeding further with this request and I will deliver the proper form to you with the hard numbers.”

Click here to read all the stories in Civil Beat’s special report, In The Name Of The Law.

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