It’s been almost five years since Honolulu police Sgt. Darren Cachola was caught on tape battering his then-girlfriend in a Waipahu restaurant.
Just last month, Cachola, who was initially fired but later reinstated, was once again arrested on domestic violence charges. And he wasn’t the only one; three other Honolulu Police Department officers were also arrested on domestic violence charges in April.
“Obviously for myself as well as the department, this is very concerning,” Chief Susan Ballard said at a press conference April 30 addressing the spike in arrests. April was a “bad month,” she said.
The HPD has launched a training program designed to help police officers get a better grip on their mental and emotional states, she said.
“Resiliency training” teaches coping mechanisms for everyday stressors and communication skills.
Department leaders hope the training will help reduce the domestic violence incidents involving officers. But not everyone is convinced it will have that effect.
“It’s probably great to have in a high-stress job, but I don’t know that it’s on point with the issue that surfaced in the area of domestic violence,” said Loretta Sheehan, chairwoman of the Honolulu Police Commission.
Police officer-involved domestic violence is a particularly serious problem because cops have guns, know where the domestic violence shelters are and how to work the system to avoid punishment or shift the blame to the victims, according a National Center for Women and Policing fact sheet.
“We don’t feel like there’s really attention being paid to prevention.” — Marci Lopes, Domestic Violence Action Center
Police departments often fail to adequately investigate domestic violence accusations against officers, the fact sheet says.
All four officers arrested on domestic violence charges last month are still employed by the Honolulu Police Department in administrative roles. Two face criminal charges.
One is Cachola, who was initially fired after the 2014 incident but reinstated in 2018 with the help of the police union. He was arrested April 24 on charges of abusing and harassing his wife. He has pleaded not guilty and the case is pending trial.
Three days before that, Troy Stewart was arrested at the Honolulu airport after he allegedly shoved a woman. He was criminally charged and the case is pending.
Prosecutors declined to pursue charges against two other officers accused of domestic violence in April, an HPD spokeswoman said, although all four are still the subjects of administrative investigations.
For meaningful change within the department and the larger community, there needs to be a better understanding of domestic violence and a clearer focus on proactive prevention, said Marci Lopes, deputy director of the Domestic Violence Action Center.
“It’s a huge community issue that really only gets attention when something big happens in the news,” she said. “But we don’t feel like there’s really attention being paid to prevention.”
Modeled after an FBI National Academy Associates’ curriculum, the new HPD training focuses on developing healthy behavior and avoiding situations that could escalate to confrontation, Deputy Chief Jonathon Grems wrote in an email.
Topics include one-on-one communication skills, family interaction and interpersonal problem-solving.
Officers are now required to take 90 minutes of this training annually, Grems said, but they can also volunteer to participate in an additional eight hours of training. New recruits are required to receive the eight hours of training.
The new program is not specifically designed to address domestic violence, wrote Grems, who declined to be interviewed for this report. But the department has other support systems to help address the issue, including a departmental psychologist, chaplain corps and peer support.
The whole idea of “resiliency training” is for officers to learn to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, said John Kennedy, director of education and training at the FBI National Academy Associates. He oversees the people who trained Honolulu’s instructors on the curriculum.
“They’re dealing with situations that you and I don’t deal with every day,” Kennedy said, noting officers often encounter stressful situations on the job from which they must recover.
The curriculum focuses on four “tenets” — mental, physical, social and spiritual. The national program involves 12 hours of training, compared with the 90 mandatory minutes that HPD is implementing.
Kennedy said that’s still an encouraging sign that the HPD is investing in its officers. Although the program isn’t specifically designed to address domestic violence, he said he could see it having a positive impact in that area.
Lopes of the Domestic Violence Action Center isn’t as optimistic.
“It sounds more like it’s giving people communication skills,” she said. “But it doesn’t sound like it’s going to hold abusers accountable.”
Those communication skills are important, Lopes said, but added “resiliency training” doesn’t appear to be getting at the heart of the issue, which is addressing individual abusive behaviors.
Perpetrators have to take personal accountability for their actions and admit that they have engaged in abusive behavior, she said.
Lopes’ organization worked with the HPD on a domestic violence-related program started in 2016. Safe On Scene was a partnership in which officers would notify the center when a domestic violence incident arose and advocates would show up to help the victims.
The program fell apart last year after the nonprofit said the officers weren’t regularly using the service. It ended up returning $400,000 in grant money.
The HPD could do a better job of educating the officers on what domestic violence is and offering help to both officers accused of abuse and victims of abuse by officers, Lopes said.
“We need leadership buy-in,” she said. “We need police who are properly trained and following policies and procedures.”
Sheehan had similar concerns. She told Ballard at a May police commission meeting that she didn’t think the program would hit the mark, although she lauded the department for trying.
“In my view, domestic violence is frequently the result of a calculated pattern to control another person,” Sheehan said. “It is not because someone lost his temper or needs to take a deep breath or needs to take a step back.”
Unless people understand that, “the problem won’t be adequately addressed,” she said.
Grems told Sheehan and the other commissioners that the new program is just one piece of the puzzle. The HPD has also established an ad hoc committee looking at domestic violence in the ranks, he said.
“’Resiliency training’ is the newest component of HPD’s effort to promote wellness,” Grems said.
Sheehan said the International Association of Chiefs of Police has valuable training material and model policies that could benefit the HPD’s efforts to address domestic violence.
The model policy encompasses not only how domestic violence incidents involving law enforcement officers should be handled, but also prevention mechanisms such as training and risk assessment.
It also recommends that officers be educated on “dynamics of domestic violence, including physical, emotional and sexual violence.”
Those dynamics are often misunderstood, domestic violence activists say.
“We really are not that good at taking a look at ourselves and realizing when we are under stress and how our reactions affect other people.” — Police Chief Susan Ballard
One of the major misconceptions — not just in the law enforcement community but in society at large — is that domestic violence is an anger management issue, said Edward Hayden, director of Family Peace Center, a Hawaii program that provides individual and group services for offenders, victims and child witnesses of domestic violence.
“It’s not,” Hayden said. “It’s a cycle of abusive, coercive, controlling behavior in an intimate relationship.”
Hayden’s organization runs a 29-week domestic violence offender program. Its first stage explains the concept of domestic violence and associated behaviors, followed by stages in which offenders have a chance to look within themselves and identify their own behaviors.
Preventing domestic violence requires a change in belief systems, Hayden said.
“There needs to be a major shift in our attitudes about relationships,” he said. “Toxic masculinity is one area we need to work on.”
Sheehan, Lopes and Hayden agree there should be more support for officers who are at risk of or have committed domestic violence crimes, and their victims.
When an officer’s family is traumatized because of something that happened on the job, Sheehan said, “robust peer support” goes out to the officer and the family. In cases where the police officer is the offender, the same kind of support should go to the families, she said.
As for officers who feel that they may need help addressing their own abusive inclinations, Lopes said they should be able to get it without getting penalized.
Meanwhile, officers found to have been abusive to their partners should “be ordered to go to treatment,” she said.
Ballard said during the April press conference it can be difficult for police officers to realize when they need help.
“We’re used to helping everybody else and taking action against other people,” she said. “But we really are not that good at taking a look at ourselves and realizing when we are under stress and how our reactions affect other people.”
Civil Beat reporter Brittany Lyte contributed to this report.
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