The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii wants to make sure Honolulu takes seriously its duty of selecting its next police chief.

On Tuesday, the ACLU sent a four-page letter to the Honolulu Police Commission outlining the organization’s view of the kinds of commitments a chief should make to the community before being hired.

It came in the form of 10 questions the ACLU believes commissioners should be asking each of the candidates who applied to run the Honolulu Police Department.

The questions are dense, and touch on everything from free speech and de-escalation techniques to the treatment of Native Hawaiians and Donald Trump.

HPD Police DUI Sobriety checkpoint Alapai Street cops. 5 may 2016

The ACLU of Hawaii has decided to weigh in on the selection of HPD’s next police chief.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat


“Choosing the next chief of police is a very important moment in terms of setting the direction of the police department,” Mateo Caballero, the ACLU’s legal director, said in an interview. “Ultimately, it is the police chief that sets the culture of the department. And creating a culture of transparency and accountability goes a long way toward protecting civil rights and civil liberties.”

Caballero said the questions are organized in order of priority, with protection of free speech and other First Amendment issues at the top of the list.

The ACLU wants to ensure the Honolulu Police Department will not interfere with anyone’s rights to protest in public places or use overly-aggressive tactics that might result in mass arrests.

Another topic high on the list includes a commitment to implementing modern police practices that have been recommended by the Obama administration and others to help reduce community tensions with law enforcement, particularly in minority neighborhoods.

Some of the recommendations include putting in place new training techniques to encourage de-escalation over use-of-force, and establishing policies and procedures that increase transparency and accountability within a department.

“If you review what has been going on in the national conversation about policing in the last few years I don’t think Hawaii has been part of that conversation,” Caballero said.

The ACLU letter, which was penned by Caballero, is detailed, and touches on complex issues such as ending discrimination and reducing Hawaii’s prison population.

But the takeaway is one that the ACLU doesn’t think should be ignored — Honolulu’s police chief has “an awesome responsibility,” particularly in maintaining the public’s trust.

Here’s an excerpt that summarizes the ACLU’s many concerns:

As our community faces enduring and new challenges, the role of the new chief of police in helping or hurting each individual’s fundamental rights under the Hawaiʻi and United States constitutions cannot be overstated.

The new chief will need to ensure that the people’s right of free speech and the right to protest are respected. The new chief will also play a key role in guaranteeing the rights to due process, counsel, remain silent, and being secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

As military-grade equipment and more intrusive surveillance tools become available, the new chief will decide whether and how the police department should use these tools. Similarly, as police body camera programs are adopted, the chief will decide on the final procedures and rules that will ensure both transparency and accountability.

The new chief of police will also need to decide whether and to what extent the police department will cooperate with the Trump administration’s priorities, such as drug and immigration enforcement, to the detriment of local priorities, such as community policing, law enforcement assisted diversion, and drug treatment.

Finally, the new chief of police will set the culture and enforcement priorities of the department and, thus, ultimately be either part of the problem or the solution in addressing prison overcrowding and the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians, the homeless, the poor, and other minorities in our correctional system.

The letter comes as the Honolulu Police Department attempts to recover from a series of scandals that have rocked the agency in recent years, including a federal investigation that led to the unexpected retirement of former police chief Louis Kealoha.

Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, who is a city prosecutor, have been under federal investigation for public corruption and abuse of power for allegedly framing a family member so that they could gain the upper hand in a lawsuit.

Several other police officers were also accused of wrongdoing in the incident, with one former cop already pleading guilty to federal conspiracy charges.

Caballero said these recent events haven’t escaped the ACLU’s notice. But he said his organization didn’t weigh in on the topic because it’s been so fraught with as-of-yet unproven allegations and political undertones.

He did say, however, that he expects the ACLU will be taking a more active role in police issues moving forward, especially as the police commission works to select a new chief.

“To be fair, when a matter is political we stay out of the fray because we are a nonpartisan organization,” Caballero said. “That being said, I think we recognize that policing plays an important role in … a priority of ours, which is reforming the criminal justice system and reducing incarceration in Hawaii.”

Read the ACLU’s letter here:

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