Forty-six percent of Hawaii voters say state and local governments need to provide greater oversight of local police departments.

That’s 9 percentage points more than voters who are satisfied with the way police are currently policed.

The desire for oversight is greater among voters who identify as liberal or Democrat, and lower among those who consider themselves conservatives and Republicans.

City Council Mtg HPD Honolulu Police patches2
A new Civil Beat poll shows that most registered voters think there should be stronger oversight of local police departments. Cory Lum/CIvil Beat/2016

When it comes to police misconduct and brutality, however, 57 percent say that it’s mostly the product of a “few bad cops.” One in five voters statewide feel that misconduct is widespread.

But on Maui the sentiment that police misconduct is widespread is shared by nearly one in three voters.

Police oversight pie

“Maui does not like cops as much as the other islands, but it’s a small sample size,” cautioned Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted The Civil Beat Poll. “Liberals think it’s a little more of a problem than moderates to conservatives, but it’s not a particularly eye-popping difference.”

Fitch added, “When it comes to wanting more oversight, Democrats want it more than Republicans, and liberals more than conservatives. That does pop out.”

Police Misconduct In The News

For our latest poll, Civil Beat surveyed 922 registered voters statewide Jan. 26-29.

The poll sampled 70 percent landlines and 30 percent cellphones, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent.

Police misconduct made local headlines a lot last week.

2016 Police Poll widespread misconduct

Of 17 officers that the Honolulu Police Department tried to fire last year, detailed disciplinary information is only publicly available for two. That’s because of a state law that exempts cops — unlike other public employees — from misconduct disclosure in most circumstances.

Meanwhile, HPD Chief Louis Kealoha promoted Major Ryan Borges to the assistant chief level in spite of Borges’ history of domestic violence.

Problems with police are not confined to Oahu.

Oversight bar

The Department of Land and Natural Resources recently hired an officer for assignment in Hawaii County who had been fired from HPD. Ethan Ferguson, the DLNR cop, was arrested after he allegedly sexually assaulted a minor he had found smoking pot on a beach.

In October,  The Maui News reported that temporary suspensions were ordered for five Maui Police Department employees as part of an internal investigations.

Those are just a few examples of police misbehavior that has made headlines over the past few years. Lawmakers are responding by considering a record number of bills aimed at strengthening oversight.

Oversight column

On Thursday a state Senate panel advanced measures to provide for more misconduct disclosure and require county police commissions to include members with backgrounds in law enforcement, civil rights and domestic violence issues.

Police misconduct is not a new development in the islands, as documented in Civil Beat’s investigative series, In the Name of the Law.

Coming Tuesday: How do voters feel about Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell?

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