Gov. David Ige this week signaled his intent to veto long-overdue and hard-won legislation that would create a statewide law enforcement standards and training board, an independent entity that would have the authority to certify police officers and, more importantly, revoke their certifications if necessary.
Hawaii is the only state — the only state — that lacks a statewide board like this and some lawmakers have been pushing for it for years. This year, the Legislature unanimously — unanimously — finally put it in place.
And now the governor says he’s going to veto it. Unbelievable.
He also notes that the state sheriffs and other state law enforcement officers such as those with the Department of Land and Natural Resources don’t work through CALEA, have no national accreditation, and don’t even have a training facility. While that would seem to argue for bringing them under the new statewide board envisioned by the Legislature, Ige puzzlingly says we need to address those questions first.
So, here’s the thing: The county police chiefs’ opposition is nothing new. They all complained about the new board as it was moving through the legislative process. Lawmakers considered their concerns and unanimously rejected their arguments.
Many if not most police agencies throughout the country are accredited by CALEA and yet 49 states also have independent oversight boards. Honolulu and other county police departments in Hawaii may well have the same high standards CALEA looks for, on the books anyway.
What they too often don’t have, however, is the political or administrative muscle to enforce those standards. That’s where a new certification process comes in, one that provides a clear path to weeding out bad cops, one that works in the public’s interest in a state that is too often held hostage by the politically influential statewide police union.
Even CALEA suggests that states establish their own standards and certification boards that include a decertification process. It’s curious that Ige is swallowing the notion that CALEA is the authority on standards while ignoring them on this important aspect.
It wasn’t lost on lawmakers — and certainly shouldn’t be a surprise to the governor — that Hawaii has for years been rocked by police corruption, abuse of power and other serious problems that a standards board would be well positioned to help prevent.
Even if we set aside for now the ongoing federal Justice Department investigation into the Honolulu Police Department and former Chief Louis Kealoha — now disgraced not to mention indicted along with his deputy prosecutor wife and at least five of his officers — there are plenty of other instances that cry out for an arms-length board to review misconduct and other problems and independently decide if someone should be given the power that comes with a gun and a badge.
Civil Beat’s investigation into police misconduct and our continued reporting on police accountability show that a police chief’s decision to terminate an officer after a thorough internal investigation is routinely overturned by an arbitrator working under the collective bargaining process and the influence of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. In dozens of cases over the past few years, officers have been fired for terrible things including criminal convictions. Yet they have been reinstated through the grievance process and awarded substantial amounts of back pay, all with little if any public scrutiny.
The recent dust-up over the firing of Sgt. Darren Cachola is a perfect example. The Honolulu police sergeant was caught on surveillance video repeatedly punching his girlfriend in a restaurant. He was rightly fired but police officials were recently forced to give him his job back after an arbitrator found in his favor.
Hawaii police agencies may well have high professional standards on the books but what they don’t have is the political or administrative muscle to enforce those standards.
The police department and Honolulu Police Commission, both under new management, announced they would make public the arbitrator’s ruling so everyone could see the reasoning. SHOPO sued the city to prevent its release and that’s where it stands, likely for many more months or even years while the case goes through court hearings and any appeals. Civil Beat is an intervenor in that case on the side of the city.
A certification board such as the one created by the Legislature would have a big say in whether Cachola could retain his certification and thus be employed as a police officer.
Sen. Will Espero, who has worked for years to establish this board, is one of many who point to another egregious case, that of Ethan Ferguson who also likely would have lost his certification if this board had been in place several years ago. Ferguson was discharged from the Honolulu Police Department for inappropriate behavior toward a young woman in his custody. He was soon hired by the state DLNR to be a cop on the Big island where he sexually assaulted a young women he had detained. He’s been convicted and sentenced to prison this time around but there’s nothing in place that would prevent him from being hired again.
The board “is about being able to certify and decertify anyone who is carrying a gun and has arresting powers across the board statewide,” says Espero. “We need to catch up with the rest of the nation.”
He’s right, of course. Gov. Ige needs to get better advice on this issue and soon. He is required to make a decision on the items on his veto list by next Monday. He should let this one go.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said last week legislative leaders are already considering calling an override session to deal with any vetoes the governor may issue. If Ige persists in letting the police chiefs run over him on this one, lawmakers should re-impose their unanimous approval of this very important and much-needed reform.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.