Hawaii’s police union is taking its fight over officer-worn body cameras to state court, in a case that could have ramifications for how the technology is used by county police departments across the islands.

On Friday, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers appealed a June 3 decision by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, which ruled that Kauai County didn’t need the union’s express approval to implement a body-camera policy for its police department.

The union — which generally supports the use of body cameras — has been at odds with the Kauai Police Department ever since Police Chief Darryl Perry launched a full-scale program in January to place the devices on his patrol officers.

SHOPO President Tenari Ma’afala testifies on behalf of Chief Kealoha during the Honolulu Police Commission meeting held at the Honolulu Police Departments main station, conference room A. 17 dec 2014. photo Cory Lum
SHOPO President Tenari Maafala has publicly supported the use of officer-mounted body cameras. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

At issue: whether Kauai County officials were required to negotiate with SHOPO as part of its collective bargaining agreement and whether there must be mutual consent over the terms of a new body-camera policy.

In court filings, the union argued that implementing such technology amounts to a change in workplace conditions for its members because body cameras subject officers to “second-by-second scrutiny of their words and actions.”

Such scrutiny, the union said, can lead to disciplinary actions against officers who are caught breaking the law or otherwise violating departmental policy. Officers also can be punished if they don’t follow the new body-camera rules.

SHOPO referred questions to its lead attorney, Norman Kato, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Perry said the union is going too far in trying to exert its control over his department’s policy. He said he worked closely with SHOPO when writing the rules and that he incorporated all of the union’s concerns into the final guidelines.

But his stance, which was supported by the Labor Relations Board, was that he only needed to consult with the union rather than get its approval.

“I don’t know why they keep on challenging us on this because they admitted that this is something that is good for the public and for the officers,” Perry said. “Let us move forward with the body-worn cameras without all of these roadblocks and obstacles.”

Perry said that since outfitting his officers with body cameras in January his department has seen a decrease in complaints filed against his staff and a reduction in the number of use-of-force incidents.

Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii counties are looking at outfitting officers with body cameras, but department officials have made clear that they want to maintain control over the rules that govern how the technology is used.

A bill that would have required all county law enforcement agencies to start using body camera technology and set the ground rules for their use died in the Legislature this year after police organizations pushed back against the mandate.

You can read SHOPO’s appeal here:

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