A state board failed to meet a July 1 deadline to create basic certification standards for law enforcement and police officers in Hawaii, shirking its legislative mandate.
The Law Enforcement Standards Board was created by the Hawaii Legislature in 2018 and given one year to come up with basic training and certification standards, a decertification process and a basic training curriculum for law enforcement. Hawaii was the last state in the U.S. to enact an officer standards board.
The board has met just once since it was created, and it’s not clear yet when it will meet next or when it plans to get its job done. Earlier this year, the board asked lawmakers for more time and more money to complete its task, but that proposal never went anywhere.
The board is administered through the state Attorney General’s Office, and its members include the chiefs of each county police department, as well as directors of state departments with law enforcement or policing powers including taxation, public safety, transportation and land and natural resources.
In response to an inquiry from Civil Beat, Krishna Jayaram, special assistant to the AG, said that the board lacked enough resources and faced challenges to coming up with certification.
The AG’s office referred to a legislative report that outlined some of the board’s concerns after Civil Beat asked for an interview to discuss those challenges.
Rep. Scott Nishimoto, who introduced the bill that enacted the board in 2018, wasn’t available for an interview Friday.
Former Sen. Will Espero, who had been pushing for a standards board since at least 2014, said that creating and implementing those standards needs to be a top priority for the new attorney general, Clare Connors, who took over the office from former AG Russell Suzuki.
“This is not difficult at all,” Espero said. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The state is just looking at what would be minimal standards.”
Espero said the board could have used current department standards as a baseline, or looked to the mainland for a framework.
The four county police departments opposed most of the Legislature’s proposals to enact the standards board, but flipped and supported the 2018 measure when it ended up on Gov. David Ige’s veto list. Ige eventually allowed it to become law without his signature.
Still, the inactivity may signal a reluctance to actually enact any of the standards the board is tasked with creating.
The board has met just once, in November, when former AG Suzuki was elected chair, and Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu the vice chair. The board is supposed to also have four members of the public.
It’s not clear from the legislative report how many members attended the meeting.
At the meeting, board members discussed some of their concerns with creating standards. They worried about how certification would work with hiring practices, union contracts and employment policies. They also were concerned with uniform training requirements and varying levels of certification.
Suzuki was already busy drafting new legislation to give the board four more years and $275,000 in additional funds to come up with those standards. A state Senate bill carrying that proposal never got off the ground last session, while a companion House measure died in committee.
When he allowed the measure creating the board to become law last year, Ige also voiced concerns that it wouldn’t have enough time or money to finish.
There’s no penalty for not finishing on time. But the board’s failure to enact basic standards for officers in the state comes at a tumultuous time for law enforcement in Hawaii.
Two officers in the state Department of Public Safety are under investigation for murder in separate shooting incidents this year. In June, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his prosecutor wife were convicted on conspiracy charges, along with two other former HPD officers.
The DPS shootings called into question the employees’ training, and the standards board could create a baseline of training standards.
The board could also create a process for decertifying officers. Decertification might have stopped Ethan Ferguson, an ex-HPD officer who took a job with state law enforcement and then sexually assaulted a teenage girl.
It may also have made it easier for HPD to fire Darren Cachola, who was caught on tape in 2014 repeatedly punching his girlfriend in Waipahu.
The county police departments previously argued that a standards board isn’t needed because they are already accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a mainland credentialing authority.
While CALEA checks a number of standards, including those governing training and use of force policies, it does not certify officers.
Espero said that the board could just use the CALEA standards as a baseline.
Hawaii is still the only state without basic requirements for law enforcement officers. Roger Goldman, a St. Louis University law professor and expert on police standards, said he has never heard of a state ignoring an enacted law like the standards board has done.
But Espero says blowing off deadlines isn’t new to Hawaii.
For example, the DPS still does not have CALEA accreditation for its Sheriff’s Division eight years after the Legislature required it by law.
“Unfortunately, it’s not unusual that agencies fall behind,” Espero said.
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