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Hawaii lawmakers are once again seeking to make the state’s police agencies more transparent and accountable to the public.
The question is whether high-profile scandals, most notably the ongoing corruption investigation of the Honolulu Police Department and its outgoing chief, Louis Kealoha, will play a role in sparking any meaningful action.
On the agenda for this legislative session are familiar topics, including money for body cameras and modifications to the state’s asset forfeiture law, which doesn’t require someone to be convicted before their belongings are seized and sold.
Lawmakers have also introduced bills that would eliminate or modify an exemption in the state’s public records law that protects county police officers who are disciplined for misconduct from having their names or details of their misconduct released.
Currently, state law requires county police officers’ disciplinary records to be made public only when they are fired, which is a rarity.
As Civil Beat reported in its 2013 investigative series, “In The Name Of The Law,” hundreds of officers have been disciplined for serious misconduct, including crimes such as domestic violence, drunken driving and assault, yet only a handful had been fired.
Lawmakers have taken a few steps toward reform over the years as a result of numerous cases of misconduct, including one in which a fired HPD cop was hired by the state as a law enforcement officer and later accused of sexually assaulting a teenager while on duty.
But for the most part, Hawaii’s many attempts at police reform have failed, especially because of strong opposition from county police departments or the statewide union, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
In 2016, the only reform measure that passed was a bill to create an independent review board to analyze police killings and in-custody deaths.
This year, lawmakers are seeking other ways to address police practices and increase oversight of the thousands of officers in the state.
For instance, Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran has introduced bills that would prohibit racial profiling and require implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training for officers.
Sen. Will Espero has introduced measures that would prevent certain officers from having their criminal records expunged and create a working group to set statewide hiring and training standards for law enforcement officers.
There are also two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, that would change the make-up of county police commissions to include individuals with backgrounds in criminal justice, civil rights and women’s rights.
Here are brief descriptions of the bills that had been introduced as of Tuesday along with links to where you can find more detailed information. The names of lawmakers who introduced the measures are in parentheses.
HB 149 — Regulates the use of body-worn cameras and footage. (Gregg Takayama)
HB 171 — Reforms the state’s asset forfeiture provisions to ensure that property cannot be forfeited until after a conviction. (Joy San Buenaventura)
HB 383 — Sets rules for body cameras and vehicle-mounted cameras. The measure appropriates funds to help counties purchase equipment. (Matt LoPresti)
HB 456 — Would change the public records law to disclose an officer’s name if they are suspended for the second time in a five-year period. (Gregg Takayama)
HB 681 — Citizen complaints against officers involved in allegations of domestic violence or family abuse would not have to be done in writing or sworn to by the complainant. (Della Au Belatti)
HB 682 — Requires county police commissions to have at least three commissioners with backgrounds in equality for women, civil rights and law enforcement. (Della Au Belatti)
SB 243 — Requires police commissions and departments to establish implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training. Also requires crisis intervention training for officers who interact with people with mental disabilities. (Gil Keith-Agaran)
SB 263 — Repeals the public records exemption for certain information regarding police officer misconduct. Requires that the names of all suspended or discharged county officers be revealed to the Legislature in annual reports. (Will Espero)
SB 311 — Prohibits law enforcement from racial profiling when pulling someone over. Appropriates funds for annual training for state and county law enforcement. (Gil Keith-Agaran)
SB 323 — Requires a preliminary hearing for cases in which law enforcement officers are charged with a felony. (Gil Keith-Agaran)
SB 331 — Regulates the use of body-worn cameras and footage. (Gil Keith-Agaran)
SB421 — Sets the guidelines for the use of body cameras and vehicle-mounted cameras. Appropriates funds for police departments. (Gil Keith-Agaran)
SB 424 — Would change the public records law to disclose an officer’s name if they are suspended for the second time in a five-year period. (Gil Keith-Agaran)
SB 519 — Citizen complaints against officers involved in allegations of domestic violence or family abuse would not have to be done in writing or sworn to by the complainant. (Laura Thielen)
SB 520 — Requires county police commissions to have at least three commissioners with backgrounds in equality for women, civil rights and law enforcement. (Laura Thielen)
SB 557 — Would allow for public access to disciplinary records of county police officers who are suspended for misconduct. (J. Kalani English)
SB 566 — Creates a working group to help the Legislature set hiring standards for police officers. Prevents any person terminated for misconduct from a state or county agency from being hired by another state or county law enforcement agency. (Will Espero)
SB 567 — Would prohibit the court from expunging an officer’s criminal record for deferred acceptance of guilty plea or no contest plea if their offense was committed in the performance of their duties. (Will Espero)
SB 569 — Sets public disclosure requirements for body cameras. (Will Espero)
SB 597 — Requires that anyone appointed as the state sheriff have at least five years of law enforcement experience. (Will Espero)
SB 816 — Reforms the state’s asset forfeiture provisions to ensure that property cannot be forfeited until after a conviction. (Russell Ruderman)
SB 1038 — Repeals the public records exemption for certain information regarding police officer misconduct. (Clarence Nishihara)