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Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha vigorously defended his department’s handling of an officer-involved domestic violence case at a press conference Thursday, saying he would not “crumble” to outside pressure placed on him by lawmakers and citizens, some of whom have called for the arrest of the officer.
Kealoha’s raised voice and stern words — which were livestreamed on TV news sites across the state — were a departure from his normal measured demeanor. But they were also indicative of a man who has come under intense public scrutiny after surveillance video surfaced showing one of his sergeants repeatedly punching his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant.
“If people want me to cave in and compromise the integrity of the department and the integrity of the men and women of the Honolulu Police Department I’m not going to do that,” Kealoha said. “What we’re speaking about today is a small portion of our officers who get into trouble. It does not reflect the other 2,000 officers who are out there on the road. It doesn’t reflect the good work that over 500 civilians do everyday.”
He said the department is also performing a separate administrative investigation to determine if Cachola or the responding officers violated any policies or procedures. If they did it could result in disciplinary action against the officers, including suspension or termination.
“For us to call this an isolated incident in HPD is really not accurate. It’s really statistically impossible.” — Catherine Betts, Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women
Since 2000, there have been 26 incidents of HPD officers getting disciplined for domestic violence related issues. Of those, not a single officer lost their job, even though some were convicted of crimes. The public has been largely left in the dark on these cases due to a provision in state law that protects disciplined officers from having their names made public so long as they are not terminated. Civil Beat has successfully challenged that provision in court but the ruling is on appeal, brought by the statewide police union.
“It is our responsibility to let you know what’s going on, but we can’t in certain instances release all of the information because of public policy,” Kealoha said. “But that’s what I’m doing here today is ensuring you that in my role as the chief I expect everyone, all of our officers, to follow our policy. That’s my commitment to you and the public.”
The Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus, led by Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, held its own press conference at the Capitol after Kealoha addressed the media Thursday. Caucus members were joined by Honolulu City Council members Ann Kobayashi and Carol Fukunaga as well as two domestic violence advocates, who described a pattern of mishandled cases in which victims were discredited or ignored.
Catherine Betts, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, says her department has received more than 30 complaints in the past year and half about HPD officers acting inappropriately when responding to domestic violence incidents.
She described several scenarios in which officers failed to file reports or delayed making an arrest because they knew or were related to the suspect, some of whom had ties to law enforcement. These examples, Betts said, show HPD needs to do better in cases involving violence against women and that people should not be complacent until changes are made.
“I think we need more outrage,” Betts said, adding that federal data shows that one-third of women have been victims of domestic violence. “For us to call this an isolated incident in HPD is really not accurate. It’s really statistically impossible.”
The women’s caucus had scheduled a meeting with Kealoha for Thursday, but the chief cancelled over what he described as preparation and logistical issues. Caucus members laughed at the chief’s excuse not to meet with them, reiterating the importance of having face-to-face discussions, something that is now scheduled for Sept. 30.
Kim said it’s imperative to have an open dialogue with HPD about it’s policies. She also said the department needs to be transparent about its actions so as to restore public accountability in the police force. At the same time, she was hesitant to say whether specific laws or policies needed to be updated to solve the problem.
“We can introduce bills, we can introduce policies, we can do all sorts of things, but the intent here was to try to get something done, to get some cooperation together without a bill, without having to dictate,” Kim said. “This is a bigger problem. It’s going to take more than introducing measures. It’s got to change the attitude and the culture and it’s got to start from the top.”