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The Honolulu Police Department needs to have zero tolerance for domestic violence.
This would require a culture shift in HPDs current response to cases of domestic abuse, but it must happen.
Most cops consider spouse abuse abhorrent but other officers have been willing to let their police colleagues who abuse family members get off the hook by not arresting them or filing reports on them.
Also at issue is the dismay of some domestic abuse victims who have accused Honolulu police of blaming and belittling them, not taking them seriously when they have called 911 after they have been battered by their husbands or boyfriends.
The big question: Is the Honolulu Police Department willing to acknowledge that its uneven responses to domestic violence cases has festered into a dangerously dumb culture that needs to be changed?
It is bad for the public and bad for the image of the majority of decent policemen and women who cherish their family members and would never hit them.
And it is dangerous. By sometimes refusing to treat domestic abuse as a crime, police may be putting some women in danger of escalating violence, which could end in their deaths.
Looking the other way is apparently what happened Sept. 8 when police officers, responding to a 911 call, arrived at Kuni Restaurant in Waipahu to find their colleague, HPD Sgt. Darren Cachola, allegedly too drunk to drive himself home.
One of the officers chauffeured Cachola to his residence in a police blue-and-white squad car. Cachola was not arrested and no criminal report was filed on the incident.
The next day, a video was dropped off at HPD, which showed that before the police arrived at the Waipahu restaurant, Cachola had punched his girlfriend to the ground in the restaurant’s kitchen and kept punching her until restaurant workers made him stop.
Sgt. Cachola and the responding police officers from the Pearl City station are under investigation. Cachola has been put on desk duty.
Cachola’s girl friend has not filed charges. She claims they were just playing around. She said they enjoy practicing kickboxing, implying it was a mutual affray.
Never mind that Cachola in the video is the dominant aggressor. Former police officer Aaron Hunger, who teaches criminal justice at Remington College, says what he sees on the video is not practice fighting.
“He continues on past her retreating point. He does not allow her to reset her combat stance. This is not sparring. This is an attack.”
Catherine Betts, the executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, says her agency began an informal survey 18 months ago, collecting information from social service agencies and complaints from individuals who say they have been treated dismissively when they called the police.
Betts said 30 women said the police response to their calls for help were “inadequate, inappropriate or unethical.”
Betts said one domestic violence victim said the responding police officer told her, “You seem agitated. You need to shut the fuck up. That’s why you are getting beaten.”
Another woman told Betts the responding police officer blamed her instead of her assailant. Betts said the woman was asked if she was sure she had been abused, that maybe her husband was just drunk. She was told if she wanted to pursue the matter further she might have to come down to the police station to take a polygraph test.
Betts says the police department’s domestic violence training is not thorough or robust.
“We would like to see real and deep cultural shifts in the way the police respond to all domestic violence cases.” — Sen. Laura Thielen
“A big part of the problem is there needs to be a culture shift to respect the victim,” Betts says.
“When police finish the Cachola investigation, we don’t intend to let this go,” said state Sen. Laura Thielen, a member of the Hawaii Women’s State Legislative Caucus.
Thielen and the 22 other women lawmakers in the caucus, as well as three female members of the Honolulu City Council, want Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha to guarantee a change in his department’s response to all domestic violence, with renewed attention to cases in which the alleged beater is a police officer.
“Until then it is not over,” says Thielen.
Thielen says legislators can make all the laws they want but nothing will improve if police do not acknowledge there is a problem.
“We would like to see real and deep cultural shifts in the way the police respond to all domestic violence cases. Inappropriate responses or lack of responses are all too common now.”
Nanci Kreidman has been offering counseling services to victims of domestic violence and domestic abusers in Hawaii for the last 35 years.
Kreidman, the executive director of the Domestic Violence Action Line, worries that after a few more weeks of police hand-wringing over Sgt. Cachola and Pearl City officers who responded to Cachola’s case it will be back to business as usual.
Kreidman says outrage over domestic violence in Hawaii seems to be cyclical with much concern after high-profile incidents, followed by the issue slowly retreating to the background.
“The public gets angry. Then people get over it until the next big incident happens.”
She says when police officers treat domestic abuse lightly it gives abusers license to keep beating family members.
“The abuser then can say to a wife or girlfriend, ‘go ahead call the police, they won’t believe you.’”
In the last 14 years, not a single Honolulu Police officer has been fired for domestic violence, even though some have been convicted of the crime.
Honolulu Civil Beat’s Nick Grube reports in that period 26 Honolulu police officers accused of domestic abuse were discharged suspended anywhere from one to 20 days. Six of the officers accused of hurting wives or girlfriends received one-day suspensions.
But only three police officers accused of domestic abuse since 2000 initially lost their jobs. Two of officers were later reinstated and another was allowed to resign on his own terms.
The public is unaware when police have been perpetrators of domestic violence cases because state law allows police officers’ names to be kept secret unless an officer has lost his job because of a criminal conviction.
Civil Beat has successfully challenged this law in court but the police officers’ union is currently appealing the ruling.
Kreidman says even though the spotlight is on the police now, the issue of domestic violence is complex.
Kreidman says for real progress the root causes of abuse must be addressed.
She says “as long as women are seen as objects, as second-class citizens who do not receive 100 percent pay parity with men, they are going to be targets for abusers. Abusers don’t go to work and beat up their bosses. They target their wives and girlfriends, people who have less power.”
Kreidman says improvement won’t come “until all sectors of society work together to change the social inequality that perpetuates gender-based crime.”
She says effective response must come from the police, but a deeper response is needed from all segments of society to halt the causes of violence toward women.
It is going to take more than men periodically parading down city streets in high-heeled shoes in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” parades to show they identify with the pain of battered women to end domestic beatings.
“The public gets angry. Then people get over it until the next big incident happens.” — DV counselor Nanci Kreidman
Catherine Betts of the State Commission on the Status of Women says, “Police should have zero tolerance for domestic abuse. If a police officer is convicted of abusing a family member he needs to lose his job. You cannot get away with assaulting people in any other job.”
Some police might be reluctant to turn in fellow officers because current federal law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence, even misdemeanor domestic violence, from owning a gun. The loss of the right to carry a gun would put most police officers out of work.
Some might question if it’s a fair penalty, but Sen. Thielen says an equally fair question is: “Do we want officers who have been domestic abusers enforcing our domestic abuse laws? Do we want people in these situations policing? It is a conversation we have to have.”
Kreidman, the advocate for family safety, remains hopeful that there will be change.
“I hope the scrutiny the police are under now will lead us together to a better way forward.”