Honolulu Police Department reports on officers’ use of force suggest that such incidents have increased in recent years.
Among those affected are some of the most disenfranchised citizens in the islands, including Native Hawaiians, the homeless and the mentally ill.
But the reports, obtained by Civil Beat under a public records request, are heavily redacted and police officials refuse to explain the increased use of force and what, if anything, is being done about it.
For several years, the department has been compiling statistics on the use of force, which is part of its national accreditation process.
While the reports tally how often officers put someone in a chokehold, use pepper spray or draw a weapon, a lot goes unexplained.
The reports don’t appear to account for every incident, and in copies provided to Civil Beat, all conclusions and recommendations have been redacted along with other information that helps put the statistics into context.
For instance, from 2010 to 2012 it appears there was a 70 percent increase in use of force incidents, but little information has been provided to explain the spike.
HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said that reporting procedures have changed over the years, which might account for some of the discrepancies.
She added that improvements are ongoing to provide more accurate details, and that the reports are used to help analyze whether policy or training procedures should be modified.
“It is a work in progress,” Yu said. “It was meant as a management tool to give the department a snapshot of what is happening in the field.”
Civil Beat recently obtained HPD’s 2012 Use of Force report through a public records request. It is the latest available, and includes incidents from all of that year.
HPD also provided the 2010 and 2011 reports, although the 2011 document only includes data for the second half of that year.
A 2012 assessment from HPD’s accreditation agency — the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) — found that use of force incidents were under-reported due to “a flaw” in reporting procedures.
This meant many incidents were left out of the annual statistics until the problem was discovered and fixed in 2011. But the assessment notes that the amount of force used year-over-year didn’t appear out of the ordinary.
“Other than this departmental error,” the report states, “there does not appear to be any patterns or trends that would necessitate additional training or actions.”
The CALEA assessment came out before HPD’s 2012 Use of Force report was available.
That report, which appears to be the most comprehensive of the three, states that Honolulu police officers had to use force in 1,201 incidents in 2012.
That would be 475 more incidents than in the second half of 2011, and 495 more than in all of 2010.
While the 2012 report notes the jump from 2011, officials redacted any reasons for the increase, saying that if the information were released it would frustrate a legitimate government function.
That phrase comes from the the state’s public records law — the Uniform Information Practices Act — and is often criticized by open government advocates as being a blanket exemption for agencies to withhold information.
HPD relied on the exemption to redact the entire conclusions and recommendations portion of the 2012 report.
The 2010 and 2011 reports did not include conclusions and recommendations sections, although other parts of the reports were blacked out.
Another curious omission from the use of force reports are tables that show departmental policies for how officers should respond to various forms of aggression by suspects.
HPD blacked this information out in three reports provided to Civil Beat, but has previously made it available to the public.
HPD’s reports do little to illuminate whether officers’ uses of force followed proper protocol or were even warranted. But the reports can provide a general idea of how force is used by Honolulu police officers.
Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, for instance, tend to be involved in use of force incidents more than any other ethnic group, followed by whites.
Not surprisingly, most use of force incidents occur downtown and in Waikiki. They occurred most commonly on Saturdays in 2012, from midnight to 1 a.m.
Disorderly conduct and mental health cases were the most common that resulted in the use of force, and about 40 percent of all incidents involved people who were unemployed.
In 2010 and 2011, HPD tracked how often homeless individuals were the subjects of use of force — about 15 percent each year — but that information is not included in the 2012 report.
In 2012, about 7 percent of all use of force incidents involved individuals under 18.
Use of force as laid out in the reports can be anything from a verbal command or takedown to punching or shooting with a Taser. Unholstering a weapon was also considered a use of force.
Some discrepancies in the reports raise questions about their completeness.
The 2012 report does not include the death of Aaron Torres, who died that year after officers held him face-down on the ground while making an arrest.
A lawsuit filed by Torres’ family recently settled for $1.4 million, but the 2012 report says no one died that year from use of police force.
The 2010 and 2011 reports also indicate no one was killed at the hands of police.
Another inconsistency related to shootings. From 2010 to 2012, the report shows that not a single officer fired his or her weapon as a use of force.
The 2012 report, however, does say the department’s internal affairs division investigated three incidents in which officers fired their guns.
Missing from the reports is any meaningful discussion of what HPD is doing to monitor the use of force outside of its statistical analysis.
The 2012 report notes that the Professional Standards Office — formerly Internal Affairs — received six complaints related to use of force by officers that they were “not sustained.”
No details about the Honolulu Police Commission’s use of force reviews are contained in the reports.
The commission is tasked with investigating citizen complaints — including those related to excessive force — but not all incidents make it before the body. Some incidents are only reviewed internally by HPD’s Professional Standards Division.
In 2012, the commission ruled on 25 complaints involving use of force incidents, including the mistreatment of prisoners. Only four of those were sustained.
There were zero sustained cases related to use of force and prisoners in 2013, according to the commission’s latest report.
Read HPD’s 2012 use of force report here: