Honolulu voters might have the chance to enact meaningful police reform when they cast their ballots this November.

On Friday, the Honolulu Charter Commission was supposed to make decisions on several measures that would toughen up police oversight in the city.

Some of those proposals being considered by the commission include giving the Honolulu Police Commission more authority when it comes to punishing officer misconduct and allowing the mayor to fire the police chief.

Honolulu Police Department Bicycling Detail before the Aloha Aina Unity March. 9 aug 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Citizens and lawmakers are calling on Honolulu officials to toughen up on police oversight. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But given the complexity of the topic the commission decided to form a special committee to further vet the matter before putting it on a ballot.

“I think what we decide to do about police is as important as any issue that we can decide,” said Commissioner Michael Broderick, who is a retired judge and former administrative director of the Hawaii State Judiciary.

The commission is charged with reevaluating the city’s constitution every 10 years. It received more than 150 proposals to change city rules, from government officials, politicians and everyday citizens.

Police reform was a popular topic given several well-publicized cases of officer misconduct that surfaced over the past two years and other questionable behavior by law enforcement, including problems surrounding Police Chief Louis Kealoha, who is now under federal investigation.

Much of the Charter Commission’s focus has been on the Honolulu Police Commission, which hires and fires the police chief. The police commission is also responsible for investigating citizen complaints of officers, although it does not have the authority to impose discipline.

Charter Commissioner Kevin Mulligan put forth a draft of new rules Friday that would give the commission broader authority over the chief as well as the rank and file. It would also give the mayor the power to fire the police chief with consent of five of the seven police commissioners.

Mulligan’s proposal, which attempted to collate most of the police reform proposals that were submitted, would also allow the commissioners to suspend the chief for cause, a power they currently do not have.

Senator Laura Thielen looks on during a Senate Committee on Tourism and International affairs meeting. 18 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
State Sen. Laura Thielen has been a consistent voice at the Legislature asking for more police accountability. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

His proposed rules would also make it easier to terminate a chief, such as for substance abuse or “reckless disregard for the safety of the public or another law enforcement officer.”

Other provisions include giving the police commission the power to subpoena witnesses and make recommendations to the police chief regarding allegations of officer misconduct. If the chief disagreed the commission’s findings — which happened recently in a high-profile police brutality case — the chief would be required to explain the reasoning in writing.

Still, there were several questions about whether Mulligan’s proposal addressed all the concerns of citizens and lawmakers who submitted reform measures.

For instance, state Sen. Laura Thielen has called for more transparency around police officer discipline, something that has long been shrouded in secrecy. Such transparency is necessary, she said, to ensure the public knows how its police force is acting.

Thielen has also asked that people complaining about officers involved in domestic abuse, physical abuse or corruption be allowed to make their complaints anonymously in order to protect themselves from possible retaliation.

She told the Charter Commission Friday that it’s important to push for police reform given the extraordinary powers given to officers to arrest, detain and even kill ordinary citizens. It would also go a long way toward improving public trust in the police department, she said.

“Because of that we’re asking for this type of accountability and oversight,” Thielen said. “We can all think of instances that have happened over the last year that should never, ever have happened and that could have been avoided had that oversight and accountability been in place.”

The Charter Commission has until August to submit proposed amendments to the city to be placed on a ballot.

Read Mulligan’s proposal here:

Kevin-Mulligan-proposal (Text)

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