Massage therapists, boxing promoters, doctors and lawyers all have to be licensed to work in Hawaii. So too do private detectives and security guards.
But Hawaii’s police officers, whether they’re patrolling the streets of Waikiki or tracking down poachers on the Big Island, do not.
Hawaii Sen. Will Espero thinks this is a glaring hole in the state’s oversight of its police force, and he’s hoping to fix it with new legislation.
“It’s good to have an independent set of eyes watching and monitoring law enforcement officers given their power to arrest and the authority they have in dealing with the general public,” Espero, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, says.
Espero recently introduced Senate Bill 2937 to create a statewide police standards and training board. The board would set the minimum training standards for police officers in Hawaii and oversee certification.
More importantly, the board would have the ability to revoke an officer’s certification if that individual committed serious acts of misconduct or no longer met statewide benchmarks, such as for physical and mental fitness.
“I’m looking at this bill as a way for us to improve our law enforcement statewide,” Espero said.
Hawaii is the only state without a statewide standards and training board. It’s also one of only six states that doesn’t have the power to revoke a police officer’s certification for wrongdoing.
Espero promised then that he would look into the matter and introduce legislation if warranted.
He also recently met with Roger Goldman, a law professor at Saint Louis University, who is considered a leading expert on police certification in the U.S. Goldman has worked to get laws passed in other states to tighten up licensing procedures, particularly as it relates to misconduct.
Goldman says Espero’s bill “touches all the bases” but also leaves room for negotiation. For instance, Espero’s bill doesn’t define what would constitute serious misconduct.
Even though many police departments already have training standards and minimum employment requirements, a statewide system for ongoing certification assures that officers are getting the most up-to-date information about how best to perform their duties, whether it’s learning how to deal with mental illness to getting the most recent sexual harassment prevention policy, he said.
“There’s nothing unique about this idea,” Goldman said. “We have licensing requirements for many other professions, so why not for police, who have so much power?”
Under Espero’s proposal, the statewide standards board would oversee all law enforcement agencies in Hawaii, including county police officers, state sheriffs, harbor police and park rangers.
The board would lay out the qualifications needed to become a certified police officer, including those related to age, citizenship, good conduct, moral character and physical and mental ability.
A criminal justice curriculum would also be developed for incoming officers along with continuing educational programs for those who are already certified.
The board would be made up of each of the four county police chiefs, the director of the Department of Public Safety, the director of the Department of Transportation and the head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Four members of the public, one from each county, would also be appointed to the board by the governor. They won’t be paid, but they could be reimbursed for their expenses, including travel.
Board members would be given broad powers, including subpoena ability, to investigate officers who might not live up to the minimum standards, which could include instances of misconduct.
Espero estimates the cost of having a statewide oversight board to be $250,000 to $500,000 a year.
The Honolulu Police Department, by far the state’s largest law enforcement agency, plans to oppose Espero’s measure.
HPD Spokeswoman Teresa Bell said in an emailed statement that the department already has a training academy with standards that “meet or exceed” those on the mainland.
Bell also noted that HPD models its standards after the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). That group accredits law enforcement organizations around the country, including three of Hawaii’s four county police departments.
Kauai is the only department that is not accredited by CALEA.
But CALEA can’t revoke an officer’s certification and doesn’t play any role in oversight of misconduct.