Eight years after a law was passed requiring state deputy sheriffs to be accredited by a national agency, the Department of Public Safety has not yet applied for accreditation.

The Legislature required the Sheriff Division in 2011 to be credentialed by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a nonprofit group that sets national public safety benchmarks. Hawaii’s four county police departments are all CALEA-accredited.

Mark Mosier, CALEA’s Pacific regional program manager, told Civil Beat on Wednesday that the public safety department has not yet contracted to begin the accreditation process. However, it has sought information relating to accreditation and has been consulting about it with the Honolulu Police Department, he said.

Sheriff Vehicle at the Capitol.
A state sheriff vehicle at the Capitol in February. The Department of Public Safety has not applied for accreditation that the Legislature required eight years ago. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Accreditation is voluntary from our standpoint,” Mosier said. “We don’t tell agencies they need to join.”

Department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon that it has done much of the work necessary to submit an application. It has reviewed existing policies, identified deficiencies and assigned two staff members to work solely on research related to CALEA accreditation, Schwartz wrote.

“It is our goal to become accredited,” Schwartz wrote.

The department’s policies and standards have come under renewed scrutiny following the recent death of Delmar Espejo, who was shot by a deputy sheriff on the Capitol grounds Feb. 18. The officer had approached Espejo because he had an open bottle of alcohol, leading to a physical struggle in which Espejo was shot in the torso, authorities said.

Espejo’s family has questioned that account and contended the shooting was unjustified, Hawaii News Now reported. Eugene Espejo, Delmar’s brother, told Civil Beat that the family is discussing legal options with prominent attorney Miles Breiner.

Director Public Safety Noland Espinda during a break between hearings at the Capitol.
Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said deputy sheriff policies are being evaluated in light of the recent fatal shooting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said the department would evaluate its procedures and policies after the shooting. Unlike county police departments, deputy sheriffs do not wear body cameras or have Tasers.

Hawaii’s nearly 340 state deputy sheriffs have jurisdiction over state facilities including the courts, harbors, airports and some hospitals. Sheriffs are also tasked with serving warrants and providing security details for the governor and lieutenant governor.

To qualify for accreditation, law enforcement agencies must align their policies with CALEA’s standards, which cover topics like use of force, weapons, training and conduct. 

‘We Encourage Agencies To Be Open And Transparent’

Entire chapters of a policy and procedures manual pertaining to the department’s Law Enforcement Division, which includes state sheriffs, are left blank on its website. Those chapters include fiscal management, training and staff development, records and information systems, citizen involvement and volunteers, and information system maintenance.

Schwartz’s email did not respond to a question about why those chapters are blank on the website.

Those policies would be required for CALEA accreditation.

Two other chapters governing security and control, and firearms and use of force, are listed as confidential on the website.

The Honolulu Police Department makes public most of its policies, including those governing training and use of force. CALEA does not require agencies to post their directives online, Mosier said.

“However, we encourage agencies to be open and transparent,” he said in a follow-up email.

Lawmakers mandated CALEA accreditation for deputy sheriffs in 2011 following an audit a year earlier that recommended credentialing by the agency. A number of deputy sheriffs testified in support of measures that would require the department to become accredited.

Karen Awana, then a state representative from the Leeward Coast, introduced House Bill 491, which mandated the CALEA accreditation.

Will Espero, a former state senator from Ewa Beach, has long championed officer accountability in Hawaii. He was a senator when HB 491 moved through his committee in 2011.

Espero said that the department agreed with the auditor that there should be accreditation, but “they didn’t wholeheartedly get behind CALEA.”

‘They’d rather just deal with it when they felt it was best to deal with it,” he said.

Espero recalls the department citing cost concerns and the time it would take to pursue accreditation.

The public safety department estimated that the 32-month accreditation process would cost $15,075 plus an annual fee of $4,850 in 2011, according to its written testimony to the Legislature in 2011.

“This was just not one of their top priorities,” Espero said. “A priority. But not a top priority.”

In 2012, the department reported back to the Legislature that it had purchased manuals and was in the process of identifying goals, objectives and resources that it needed to become accredited.

Public Safety Sheriff at the Capitol.
Deputy sheriffs providing security at the Capitol in February. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The department wrote that it would identify changes to its policies, establish a timetable to implement changes and develop a budget for pursuing accreditation

Once an agency gets the accreditation process started with CALEA, it has up to three years to bring its policies into compliance with the agency’s standards. It would also need to perform annual re-evaluations of its policies and agree to a site visit every four years to maintain accreditation.

New Standards Board Coming Soon

Even without CALEA accreditation, state sheriffs will still be subject to a separate law enforcement standards and a certification process through Hawaii’s new Law Enforcement Standards Board starting in July. However, the July start is uncertain because the board has said it needs more money and time to draft the standards.

State lawmakers created the board last year to provide greater oversight of all police officers.

The county police departments initially opposed the standards board in written testimony, citing their own internal procedures for hiring and training, as well as their CALEA accreditation.

At the beginning of the current legislative session, before the Capitol shooting, Rep. Ryan Yamane introduced House Bill 456, which would require the public safety department to conduct training for deputy sheriffs in the use of less-than-lethal force.

Yamane told Civil Beat that the idea came directly from conversations he had with deputy sheriffs, who said they wanted more resources and use-of-force options other than a gun.

Training in de-escalation tactics and “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios are among the requirements of Yamane’s bill, which is awaiting committee hearings in the Senate after clearing the House.

The 2010 audit criticized the department for lacking certain types of annual training, including shooting scenarios.

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author