The Honolulu Police Commission is scheduled to hold a public meeting Wednesday — without the public.

The meeting will take place through teleconferencing, according to the commission’s agenda, but the commission is only accepting written testimony, and the public and media can’t even watch, let alone participate.

Under normal circumstances, that would violate the state’s open meetings law, but Gov. David Ige, as part of an emergency declaration on March 16 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, suspended the law.

That doesn’t mean the police commission meetings shouldn’t still be accessible, said Commissioner Steve Levinson, who requested the sole agenda item for the meeting —  Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard’s April 17 letter to Hawaii Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald regarding the release of state inmates.

“At the very least, you would think that people could be given the option of tuning in,” he said.

Honolulu Police Commission Meeting. July 2019.
The Honolulu Police Commission has been conducting meetings via teleconferencing as a result of the pandemic. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

If social distancing measures continue and the commission has to keep conducting meetings remotely, it must find a format that includes the public, Levinson added.

“We can do better than this,” he said.

Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said the intent of holding the meeting electronically isn’t to be secretive.

“We’ve been trying our best to find a platform that works,” she said.

The popular Zoom app has been ruled out because of security concerns, she said.

But she hopes that by the May 6 meeting, the staff will come up with a solution that allows public participation.

The purpose of citizen boards like the Honolulu Police Commission is to seek input from the entire community, said Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest.

That’s particularly important during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“People are anxious,” he said. “Some may feel powerless, looking for some way to help, participate, understand what their government is doing.”

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