A bill that would establish requirements for body-worn and vehicle cameras for county police departments was deferred Tuesday at the Hawaii State Capitol.
But Senate Bill 2411 is not dead. Rather, the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs plans to take the measure up again Feb. 16.
By that time, said Chair Clarence Nishihara, a new draft will incorporate language from House Bill 1738, which calls for regulating the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers and body camera video footage. It could also contain language in SB 2411 that calls for training cops in how to use the cameras.
HB 1738 was recommend by ACLU of Hawaii attorney Dan Gluck, who said the House measure addresses guideline implementation concerns. SB 2411 also calls for the state to provide $1.3 million to the counties to buy the cameras.
The money would be used in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and would be split among the four island counties — $150,000 for Kauai, $250,000 each for Maui and the Big Island and $700,000 for the City and County of Honolulu.
The Senate panel shelved a related measure, Senate Bill 2417, that would have required county police commissions to develop guidelines for the use of body cameras by police officers.
Daniel Lawrence, executive officer with the Honolulu Police Commission, submitted written testimony saying the County Charter does not give the commission authority on such matters.
Body cameras are part of a growing national discussion prompted by high-profile police shootings in several cities. In Hawaii, however, only the Kauai Police Department has launched a body-cam program — one resisted by the police union, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
SHOPO opposed the two Senate bills Tuesday, though SHOPO head Tenari Maafala did not show up for the hearing. In his written testimony, he wrote, “SHOPO supports annual reporting of the costs of the body camera program and the appropriation for funding the programs in each county.”
But Maafala took issue with the practical implementation of the body-cam policies and raised questions about how long the videos would be retained and how privacy rights might be at risk.
Cheryl Kakazu Park, director of the state Office of Information Practices, said legislation on police body-cams should conform to the Uniform Information Practices Act that allows for government records to be open to public inspection. She said she was worried her office would be swamped with requests to look at police video, in which case it would need additional funding and staffing.
But Aaron Hunger, a doctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii Manoa and a former police officer in Florida and California, said the use of videotape in mainland locales has been “an important tool in managing police services” and improving operational and technical control.
Hunger agreed that OIP might well be overwhelmed with video requests, but he said it was important to have OIP or another state agency administer the video tapes. County police departments, he said, would not be be the ideal custodian of tapes, comparing it to a fox having its own evidence in a hen house.
No county police departments submitted testimony on the body-cam bills, but Maj. Andrew Lum of the Honolulu Police Department said HPD supports the concept. The department is in the process of formulating a body-cam program and reaching out to mainland departments where cameras are used.
But Lum also cautioned that deploying body-cams is no minor undertaking. He described police departments “going through growing pains” on how to best use cameras, which he described as a new technology. He also raised security and privacy concerns.
“We want a program that is very thoughtful in the development stage,” he said, adding that cost is another concern.
Lum also said there is a Honolulu revised ordinance that prohibits law enforcement from utilizing the cameras on Oahu, and so HPD has contacted the mayor’s office to see if the law can be changed through the City Council.
Lum said HPD understands how important the cameras have become in today’s world.
“The transparency issue is very important, and we understand that it builds the public’s trust,” he said.
It’s unclear how much support the body-cam issue has at the Legislature.
While Nishihara and his committee vice chair, Will Espero are in support, another member of Nishihara’s panel, Lorraine Inouye, said a feasibility study might be the better route in order to come up with a consistent policy statewide. Espero said he did not want to want to wait on a report to the Legislature that would likely come next hear, however.
Meanwhile, three other body-cam bills — HB 1738 and the House companions for the Senate bills — have yet to have hearings scheduled in House Judiciary.
Another Senate measure appropriating funds for the county to buy body-worn and vehicle-mounted video cameras has also not be scheduled.
But it only takes one bill to get things done.