Hawaii appears to be inching closer to implementing widespread police reform as legislators consider setting minimum training and education standards for all state and county law enforcement officers.

On Thursday, the Senate committees on public safety and commerce passed a measure that would create a statewide standards and training board to oversee minimum requirements for all officers who wear a badge and carry a gun.

Senate Bill 2755 would also require armed government contractors, such as the airport security guards hired by the Department of Transportation that have the authority to use deadly force, to meet those same minimum requirements.

Hawaii is currently the only state without a statewide training and standards board.

Lawmakers are looking for ways to improve police oversight in light of several high-profile scandals involving bad cops over the years.
Lawmakers are looking for ways to improve police oversight in light of several high-profile scandals involving bad cops over the years. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The focus of SB2755 is having employment standards, training standards and continuing education statndards, which we currently do not have,” said Sen. Will Espero, who introduced the bill. “Right now it’s county-by-county, agency-by-agency. You have some law enforcement agencies and divisions that are accredited, and you have some that are not.”

Under SB2755, the public would be allowed to weigh in on future training standards for police as would state and county law enforcement agencies.

Espero said this process could be used to bolster areas such as domestic violence response training, dealing with mental illness and anger management for officers.

He stressed that the new standards would not supplant a department’s current standards so long as they were at least as stringent as those developed by the oversight board.

The bill was supported by the Department of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Transportation, both of which employ law enforcement officers. The DOT, however, had some concerns about requiring contractors to meet the same standards as officers hired by the state and counties.

The Honolulu Police Department opposed the measure along with the Maui Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Officials from both agencies said in written testimony that officers in their counties already receive rigorous training.

“The officers of the HPD receive over 1,100 hours of initial recruit training,” said Maj. Gordon Shiraishi, who is with HPD’s training division. “This training is among the longest and most stringent in the nation, even among other major city police departments.”

HPD’s training academy is currently embroiled in a cheating scandal that, Hawaii News Now reported, has resulted in an internal investigation.

Espero’s bill does not address officer certification or licensing. At least 44 states require officers to be licensed before they can work, similar to doctors, lawyers and dozens of other professions, including hair stylists, contractors and accountants.

By licensing officers, the state would be able to revoke their permits to work if they were not fit for duty or found guilty of wrongdoing. It would also make it easier to ensure that bad cops don’t bounce from one department to the next.

The joint committee deferred a measure, Senate Bill 2325, that would have included officer certification as part of a statewide standards and training board. It had been introduced as part of the 2016 Women’s Legislative Caucus package.

Espero said he anticipates police officer certification to come up again in future legislative sessions. His bill on standards and training now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committe and Ways and Means.

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