Cockfights, family abuse and tampering with government records are only a few of the crimes Honolulu police officers were punished for in 2014, according to an annual misconduct report submitted to the Legislature last week.
In all, the Honolulu Police Department disciplined 39 officers for 47 incidents that also included surfing on the job, gaming the overtime system, beating up suspects and driving under the influence.
Twenty-two officers were found to have committed criminal acts, almost all of which were referred for prosecution. None of the officers are named in the report.
The Honolulu County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office wasn’t able to answer questions about those cases on Tuesday.
Most of the officers, however, remain on the job. Only five of the 39 included in the report received discharge notices, with two officers appealing their terminations. Another officer, who was busted for involvement in an illegal cockfighting operation, quit before the discharge process could play out.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
This is the most detail HPD has provided to the Legislature about officer misconduct since the annual reports were first required 20 years ago.
But some state lawmakers, including Hawaii Sen. Will Espero, still don’t think it’s enough. They want names.
“Given the fact that we don’t even know who they are adds to the level of distrust that people have,” Espero said Tuesday. “The public wants more transparency. They’re demanding it from what I’m hearing. We need to change the law so that people can know more.”
In 2014, Espero introduced a bill to force HPD and other county police departments to include more information in annual reports submitted to the Legislature. The bill, which became law last year, stemmed from a Civil Beat investigative series on police misconduct, In the Name of the Law, that detailed much more serious misconduct than what lawmakers were being told.
County police departments must now provide details about officers who were caught breaking the law and whether those crimes were forwarded to prosecutors. The departments must also show which officers were repeat offenders and whether their suspensions or terminations were final.
None of the neighbor island county reports were available through the Legislature on Tuesday.
Departments must also maintain the records of disciplined officers for at least 18 months after the legislative reports are issued. Civil Beat found that an officer’s disciplinary file was often destroyed before the public learned of the misconduct from the annual summaries.
But while Espero considers this a good first step in improving transparency, he says more must be done to improve public oversight of the department.
Bad cops are still protected from public scrutiny because of a controversial provision in Hawaii’s public records law that keeps suspended officers’ identities secret. That exemption was passed in 1995 with the support of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. All other public employees’ disciplinary files are publicly availably if they are suspended or terminated.
State Sen. Laura Thielen has introduced a bill to end that exemption along with Espero and Sens. Roz Baker, Russell Ruderman and Maile Shimabukuro. Senate President Donna Mercado Kim also signed on to the legislation.
Much of the bill’s preamble refers to the Sgt. Darren Cachola case, in which he was seen on surveillance video repeatedly striking his girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant. A grand jury did not indict Cachola, but the incident raised questions about how HPD responds to domestic violence. Cachola was never arrested and the officers who responded to the restaurant did not file any police reports. HPD has not released any information on possible disciplinary action.
Thielen has been one of the most vocal critics of HPD ever since the Cachola case dominated local headlines and TV news. She’s now concerned that the public will be unable to find out about any possible punishment despite Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s promises of transparency.
“Police have an awful lot of power and authority,” Thielen said Tuesday. “The public wants to know at this point, how do we trust the police department? How do we know we can rely on them?”
She worries about the way in which certain cases are handled. For example, she cited two domestic violence cases in previous years that resulted in one-day suspensions for two officers. That’s the same discipline as the one-day suspension received by an officer in 2014 for skipping out on work to go surfing and using condescending language with colleagues.
“How do you know that there isn’t some type of favoritism going on in how punishments are meted out?” Thielen asked. “How do you know there’s equal treatment?”