Body cams and dashboard cameras in police cars moved a step closer on Tuesday to becoming part of police operations in Hawaii.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 2411, with two Republican members voting with reservations.

Chair Karl Rhoads, who wasn’t at the hearing, recommended that the bill be amended to make clear that each county police department needed to become “fully operational” with the technology by July 1, 2018. Staff would need to properly store the video to allow for public access.

Rep Joy San Buenaventura Vice Chair Legislature1
Rep. Joy San Buenaventura is vice chair of House Judiciary, which amended and passed a body camera bill for police officers Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The idea is to increase transparency, to ensure that we don’t have frivolous claims against police, as well as ensure that our citizens are protected from any kind of police brutality,” said Vice Chair Joy San Buenaventura, who chaired the committee for Rhoads, who was ill.

She continued: “It goes both ways. We also want to make sure that the press and the public will not have the kind of original confidentiality requirements that the police union wanted. So that’s a big thing.”

Asked about public and media access to video footage, San Buenaventura said, “We were concerned about how strict (the bill) was with restrictions, to ensure that prosecution will not be comprised. It’s balancing, because we want to be sure that law enforcement will still be able to arrest and prosecute the bad guys, the criminals. But we also want to make sure that the public knows what’s going on.”

As for the footage itself, the representative said the “whole idea” behind passing the bill was to standardize the footage as far as retention. Different states do it differently, she said.

Amendments were still being drafted Tuesday afternoon and not available for public review.

SB 2411 now heads to House Finance. Each county would be given money to purchase the cameras but would have to provide matching funds.

SB 2411 currently leaves the dollar figures blank, but the original bill listed $700,000 for Honolulu, $250,000 for Maui, $250,000 for Hawaii Island.

Training, Review and Video

House Judiciary also approved an amended version of another law enforcement measure, Senate Bill 2755. It sets up an advisory board for developing statewide employment standards and training for county and state law enforcement officers who carry firearms.

But compliance with the standards would be voluntary. As amended, SB 2755 would also allow for lawsuits against members of the advisory board.

“People would be allowed to sue,” said San Buenaventura.

House Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads during House Judiciary hearing at the Legislature
House Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Another measure that also passed out of the committee, Senate Bill 2196, would establish a law enforcement officer independent review board within the Attorney General’s Office to investigate officer-involved incidents that result in someone’s death. Details are still being worked out on when the information would be released publicly.

One other measure that was approved unanimously, Senate Bill 2439, seeks to clarify that it is OK for a citizen to take pictures, video or audio recordings of law enforcement officers performing their duties in public places “or under circumstances in which the officer has no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

All three measures now also head to House Finance.

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