More than a year after the statewide police union sued to stop the Honolulu Police Department from releasing the names, ranks and salaries of most officers, a judge has ruled in favor of the city — and Civil Beat.

The dispute began when we made our biennial request last summer for the names and salaries of all public employees in Hawaii — something we do because taxpayers have an inherent right to know who works for them and how much they cost.

Most agencies responded in a timely fashion and the information has long since been published in our public employees salary database.

HPD police officers line up to congratulate promoted officers after promotions ceremony held at McCoy Pavillion, Ala Moana Beach Park.

There are about 2,000 sworn officers in the Honolulu Police Department. Their salary information has been withheld pending resolution of a union lawsuit.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The HPD also was on the verge of a quick release of the information until the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers filed suit in September 2017. SHOPO argued that the department should withhold the names of all officers who had ever worked undercover. HPD said it planned to withhold only the names of current undercover officers.

Circuit Court Judge Virginia Crandall held a hearing on the matter in May and issued her ruling Wednesday. In it she noted the HPD said it “conducted a case-by-case assessment to assure that each police officer that is identified on the roster is performing normal or regular police duties.”

The ruling stated:

“The plaintiff did not meet its burden of proof to show irreparable harm or that the disclosure of the roster would constitute clearly unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the police officer.”

Crandall added that SHOPO “has not made a showing that disclosure of the roster would place any officer on the roster in jeopardy.”

Civil Beat had intervened on the side of the HPD, and our attorney in the case, Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, praised Wednesday’s ruling.

“There was no good reason for withholding the information,” Black said Friday. “The city recognized that and ultimately Judge Crandall recognized that.”

The union was vague in its positions, sometimes seeming to imply that the undercover exemption should apply to all plainclothes officers instead of just those truly working undercover.

“They never came forward with any evidence that justified their position,” Black said.

Does this mean the the current edition of our salary database will soon include most of the 2,000 or so sworn officers of the Honolulu Police Department?

Maybe.

Black said SHOPO’s legal action was all about “delaying the process.”

And the union could continue to do so by appealing Crandall’s ruling.

SHOPO President Malcom Lutu said Friday he had not seen the judge’s decision, and couldn’t comment on what might come next.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes.

You can also comment directly on this story by scrolling down a little further. Comments are subject to approval and we may not publish every one.

Now is the time to support our nonprofit newsroom

Civil Beat focuses exclusively on the kind of journalism most at risk of disappearing – in-depth, investigative and enterprise coverage of important local issues. While producing this type of journalism isn’t cheap, you won’t find our content hidden behind a paywall. We also never worry about upsetting advertisers – because we don’t allow any. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on donations from readers like you to help keep our stories free and accessible to everyone. If you value our journalism, show us with your support.

About the Author