Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell wants to fill two of the three vacancies on the Honolulu Police Commission with former Family Court Judge Michael Broderick and former Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, he announced on Monday.

The mayor said he made his picks keeping in mind the Black Lives Matter movement which has sparked protests around the world this month against police brutality and racism. The commission has the power to hire and fire the chief, investigate complaints, review the budget and annual report, and assess the performance of the chief, Caldwell said.

“Across the nation, people are asking – no, they’re demanding – fair application of the law by police forces across our country that understand and are sensitive to the culture and circumstances of our communities,” Caldwell said. “We expect no less here in the City and County of Honolulu, and we expect our Commission to reflect these concerns.”

The nomination of attorneys Michael Broderick, left, and Doug Chin to the Honolulu Police Commission comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of officers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Broderick is currently the CEO of the YMCA of Honolulu. Previously, he presided over more than 10,000 cases involving families and children as a judge, according to his professional bio. He has also served as the director of the Hawaii State Judiciary, overseeing the day to day operations of the courts, and the director of the Judiciary’s Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution. Broderick said that 35 years ago, he was also appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to be a liaison to the LA Police Commission. He said his job was both to support the police chief but also hold the chief accountable.

“Now with the senseless tragedy in Minneapolis and the resulting understandable outrage across the country and the world, the need to fairly strike that balance has never been greater,” he said.

Before serving a stint as lieutenant governor in 2018, Chin was the state’s attorney general from 2015 to 2018. He previously worked as Honolulu’s managing director under Mayor Peter Carlisle and as a prosecutor for nearly 15 years. More recently, he worked as a partner at the law firm Carlsmith Ball.

The nominees, who need City Council approval, said they respect the work of officers but want to work to bring more accountability and transparency to the department.

Broderick mentioned activists’ campaign for “8 Can’t Wait,” a list of eight police reforms that has been trending on social media under #8CantWait. They include:

  • Banning chokeholds and strangleholds
  • Requiring de-escalation
  • Requiring warning before shooting
  • Exhausting all other means before shooting
  • Implementing a “duty to intervene” in which officers need to report misconduct they witness among their peers
  • Banning shooting at moving vehicles
  • Requiring the use of force continuum, a “specific set of requirements governing what kinds of weapons can be used versus what levels of resistance,” Vox reported
  • Requiring comprehensive reporting of uses of force

According to Broderick, Honolulu has already implemented some of these including de-escalation, the use of force continuum, warning before shooting and comprehensive reporting.

“I hope, if I’m appointed to the Police Commission, to have a conversation with the chief and give her the opportunity to explain why we are currently not enforcing those procedures and to respectfully ask the chief to reexamine the question of whether those should, in fact, be implemented,” he said.

Chief Susan Ballard said on Monday afternoon that it’s “unfortunate” the nominee “does not understand HPD policies and procedures.”

She said officers do receive training on racial bias on an annual basis. For at least two years, she said they’ve also received training on their duty to intervene, and “we are currently in the process of putting that in writing.” When it comes to shooting at moving cars, the chief said she is hesitant to “make an absolute” rule because it may be necessary to protect the lives of officers and civilians.

On Monday, she announced the temporary halt of using vascular neck restraints, which restrict blood flow to the brain and cause loss of consciousness. Neck restraints or neck holds that restrict a person’s airway, such as bar arm chokes, are already prohibited, although there is an exception “for situations in which the officer is justified in using deadly force,” according to the policy on HPD’s website.

“I would caution those who are not aware of HPD policies to become more understanding before they make statements,” she said.

Chin said he’s against chokeholds and strangleholds but wants to talk to the department on its use of force statistics and the reason for its current allowance of those measures. Caldwell agreed that the issue of chokeholds should be revisited in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Broderick said he would like the chief to start a dialogue with the community about institutional racism, and he hopes to review the department’s training curriculum, including unconscious bias training.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell has a third Police Commission seat to fill. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Broderick noted that the police officer charged with murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis had at least 17 complaints on his record, according to the Washington Post.

As Civil Beat has reported, obtaining misconduct records for officers in Hawaii is nearly impossible because officers are protected by a law that keeps their misconduct hidden unless they’re fired, and the police union has fought forcefully for secrecy.

Broderick said the reporting on Ofc. Derek Chauvin’s record warrants “a close reexamination of our disciplinary procedures.”

Asked about the police disciplinary proceedings that the commission handles in executive session, Caldwell said that’s something the commission needs to look at.

“I support transparency,” Caldwell said. “If there’s a way to get more information out to the public, I think it’s important to do so.”

Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, said the commission has the ability to hold those meetings in the open but historically, it’s chosen not to.

Chin said he also wants more information to be made public when it comes to cases of police misconduct. He also supports the expanded use of police body cameras which are currently worn by some, but not all, patrol officers. Caldwell said additional body cameras are part of the just-passed fiscal year 2021 budget.

“If there’s any lesson that we’ve learned in the past few weeks especially, it’s how important transparency matters to be being able to hold people accountable,” Chin said. “I think it’s what the public expects, and it’s what we should be providing.”

Asked whether he supports a public online database of police complaints or the disclosure of the names of officers suspended for misconduct, Caldwell was vague.

“As long as you can respect whatever the human resources issues are, posting more information for the public to read is helpful,” he said. He did not specify what HR obstacles might exist.

The mayor and police chief, along with both nominees, said they disagree with calls from activists to “defund the police.”

They are the guardians of everyone on this island, and we need to make sure they receive their proper funding to continue to do that,” Caldwell said. “They need it now more than ever.” 

Some activists are demanding that police department budgets be reduced so that money can be transferred to address social issues like homelessness. New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio pledged over the weekend to cut NYPD funding to shift dollars to youth and social services.

Caldwell isn’t hot on that idea.

“If there was enough money for all of them, of course,” Caldwell said. “But the funds I think we’ve dedicated to the Honolulu Police Department are absolutely needed if we’re going to continue to protect the safety of the people of this island.”

In comments Monday afternoon, Ballard said the island does need more funding for social services that address homelessness, mental illness and juvenile status offenses like truancy. Cops can’t be expected to be social workers, she said.

“Unfortunately, when nobody else steps up and there’s nowhere else to turn to, people always turn to the police to take care of whatever the problem is,” she said.

The nominations will help fill seats left open by former Police Commission Chair Loretta Sheehan and former Vice-Chair Steve Levinson who resigned in frustration this month over the commission’s apparent lack of power to reform the department. Another seat is open after Karen Chang, the wife of mayoral candidate Rick Blangiardi, stepped down before her husband announced his run for office.

Caldwell said the city is still “vetting” candidates for the third opening.

Asked about the previous commissioners’ complaints about a lack of authority, Broderick said the commission cannot dictate policy to the chief but does have the power to discipline and terminate the chief. Broderick suggested that ability could be used to guide the chief in the direction the commission wants.

“I would hope the commission would be able to develop some feelings and opinions around certain policy matters and stress to the chief how important it is to them that those policy matters be implemented,” he said.

Currently, the commission reviews and investigates complaints against the department but doesn’t make determinations about the discipline of rank-and-file officers. The commission can only issue a list of findings to the chief, who has the final say.

“I know that both Steve and Loretta had some frustration about that,” Broderick said. “I wonder whether, in a future Charter amendment, that might be something that the public would want to look at.”

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