Hawaii is the only state without a single entity to oversee police officer training and performance standards, raising questions about the qualifications of Hawaii’s law enforcement officers.
There are no statewide standards for police procedures or practices, something 49 other states have, according to law enforcement experts. When it comes to training recruits on how to shoot their guns, detain suspects and follow proper search and seizure protocols, the county’s four police departments and other law enforcement agencies are on their own.
“The power that police have to arrest and use deadly force and to search and seize is really tremendous,” said Roger Goldman, Callis Family Professor of Law at Saint Louis University. “You need to have a minimal standard of training, just like you do for doctors and lawyers.”
Goldman is considered a leading expert on police licensing and revocation laws in the U.S. He has written several papers on the subject and now works to get states without license revocations laws to pass measures that would help keep troublesome officers out of uniform.
Goldman notes that 49 states have police officer standards and training boards and commissions, or similar entities. The District of Columbia also has a review board for training and recruitment.
These groups for the most part set the standards for training recruits and other law enforcement officials as well as help determine which officers are unfit for duty. These training boards are government agencies, Goldman said, and are similar to the licensing boards for professions, such as medicine, law and teaching.
In Hawaii, there are more than two dozen licensing boards, including those for nurses, massage therapists and elevator mechanics. This is in addition to the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board and the Hawaii State Bar Association.
Of the 49 states that have statewide training and standard boards for police officers, Goldman said 44 can revoke the license or certification of cops who don’t follow the rules or appropriately perform their duties. The only states that don’t have this revocation privilege are California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Hawaii.
Goldman said several states also put the names of officers who have had their certifications pulled into a national database. Sharing this information, he said, can help keep bad cops from bouncing from department to department.
“If you seriously misbehave, you can’t just get fired in Kauai and go work on Oahu,” Goldman said. “You have to have a way to be disbarred.”
According to a 2009 survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and performed by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, 19,100 officers have had their licenses revoked by various training and standards agencies over the past four decades or so. In 2008 alone, more than 1,800 officers had their certifications revoked, the study found.
The study, which was conducted using survey data compiled by Seattle University, also noted that the most common reason for the revocation of a license or certification was a felony conviction. It also found that “a significant population of officers sanctioned for misconduct exists and continues to expand.”
Police misconduct has been a real concern in Hawaii for many years, including in the 1980s and ’90s when there were large-scale public battles over whether bad cops should remain anonymous. Although the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled police misconduct records should be public, the Legislature exempted them from public disclosure in 1995. No other public employee has the same protection from disclosure as police officers do.
That’s still largely the case today, despite the fact that police officers get in trouble for misconduct on a regular basis. Little to no information is provided about who these individuals are or whether they have been properly punished. In fact, most officers who are disciplined for wrongdoing — even if it’s for committing a crime — keep their jobs.
A Senate bill now being considered by the House aims to expand the detail about officer misconduct required to be provided by the county police departments. But open-records advocates are urging the House Public Safety Committee to amend the bill to eliminate the exemption from disclosure altogether.
Hawaii law enforcement officials say the state doesn’t need a statewide training and certification review board.
Honolulu Police Department Maj. Robert Green is the commander of Ke Kula Makai, the department’s training academy. He said in an emailed statement that HPD’s police academy “meets or exceeds” the training standards used by most of the statewide police training oversight agencies.
HPD belongs to IADLEST, he said, which “helps us stay current with the latest standards and best practices in police training.”
This membership is in addition to being credentialed through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), a private, non-profit corporation that sets public safety benchmarks and charges departments a fee to see if they meet those standards.
Three of the four county police departments are accredited through CALEA. The Kauai Police Department is the outlier, although Chief Darryl Perry said his agency is working on becoming accredited and is now following “best practices.”
Perry has been in local law enforcement for about 40 years, joining HPD in 1972. He remembers discussions about having a statewide training and standards review board similar to the rest of the country but that it got bogged down in questions over cost and logistics.
“It never went anywhere,” Perry said. “That’s why the move toward accreditation is so important here.”