KAILUA-KONA – Mayor Harry Kim said he supports the Hawaii Police Chief’s pledge to review department policies in light of protests across the nation calling for law enforcement reform, although specifics of that review haven’t been shared.
Mayor Harry Kim said he spoke at length with Chief Paul Ferreira shortly after demonstrations erupted on the mainland following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Kim said he’s proud of how Ferreira is handling the situation internally as well as with the island.
“The chief is a tremendous chief, forward thinking and (encourages) participation,” Kim said. “That’s a mentality that I wish” other police departments had.
Last week, Ferreira told local media outlets that the video of Floyd’s death sparked a personal emotional reaction, and that the situation warranted the local department review of its policies.
That review will be done by Ferreira’s office and subject matter experts, such as training instructors, in addition to the review done regularly by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA. It won’t include a public review, however.
“But the public is always welcome to provide comments/concerns about the department through our website, email or written correspondence sent directly to the department,” Ferreira told West Hawaii Today
Ferreira didn’t respond to questions from Civil Beat by Wednesday whether the review would include re-investigating recent officer-involved shootings on the Big Island.
In 2019, there were eight officer-involved shootings, none of which resulted in a fatality, according to data provided by the department. Five of those shootings occurred at different locations in pursuit of a fleeing suspect, Walter Gomes III, who led police on an 11-day manhunt that stretched across West Hawaii.
Gomes was initially wanted for a non-fatal shooting of his girlfriend. When they first encountered him, officers opened fire on Gomes in two different commercial areas. He was eventually taken into custody without incident and faces up to five years in jail.
One of the officers who discharged his weapon during the pursuit lied to superiors about having fired it, according to records. He was under internal investigation by the department for the incident but retired before he could be fired, according to the 2019 Hawaii Police Department Misconduct Report, submitted to the Legislature.
No officers were disciplined for wrongdoing in other shooting incidents that year, according to the report.
But that report shows that five Hawaii Police Department officers were terminated and seven were suspended for disciplinary reasons. Transgressions ranged from physical and domestic abuse to unwanted sexual advances. The latter case has been referred to prosecutors for possible charges.
The Hawaii Police Department has around 415 officers and serves a population of 200,000.
On Maui, an island with a population of around 152,000, the department issued three terminations in 2019 and nine suspensions. An information request for the number of officer-involved shootings was unfulfilled by Wednesday.
In 2018, Hawaii police were involved in nine shootings that resulted in four deaths, according to data provided by the department. Two of those shootings involved suspect Justin Waiki, who shot and killed police officer Bronson Kaliloa.
During the manhunt for Waiki during that summer, officers also unloaded more than 10 rounds outside a Kona apartment complex at another, unrelated suspect as he drove his vehicle at officers while attempting to flee.
No officers were disciplined for shooting incidents that year, according to the 2018 Misconduct Report.
Kim, who is seeking reelection, said he trusts the chief’s review of protocol and that adjustments will be made if they are needed. While Congress and President Donald Trump are moving forward toward either banning or urging departments ban the use of chokeholds nationwide, the Hawaii Police Department forbade its use in 2003.
“That’s why we can talk about it,” Kim said, in reference to potential policy changes. “He’s forward thinking.”
The mayor also said police-community relations on the island are different than they are in pockets of the mainland, where large protests over systematic racism and police shootings of African Americans have resulted in some cases in more shootings, rioting and destroyed property.
He attributed that to Hawaii’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic background, “where differences are celebrated.”
The peaceful Black Lives Matters demonstrations in Hawaii are an example of that, he said. The gatherings have been a reflection of the values instilled in the islands of respecting differences, and that includes how police and the community interact.
“It’s a mentality I wish other places had,” Kim said.
Statistically, Hawaii is racially diverse — as is the Hawaii island police force. According to 2010 United States Census figures, 23.6% of Hawaii residents claimed multi-ethnic backgrounds — two or more races — far more than any other state. The second highest was Alaska with 7.3%.
Of those 2010 figures, 38.6% of Hawaii’s population is Asian, 24.7% is White, 10% is Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders, 8.9% is Hispanic, and 1.6% is Black or African American.
Those diverse figures are representative of the demographic makeup for the county police department as well.
According to data provided by the department, 307 of the 426 sworn personnel are classified as “other” races. “Other” includes American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders, and persons of two or more races. Caucasians make up 106 of those officers. At the executive level, 13 of 16 people are classified as “other.”
Kim’s assessment that diversity in Hawaii helps relationships during a time when police and community relationships are fracturing over racism in places on the mainland is shared by Assistant Chief Robert Wagner.
“In Hawaii, we are clearly different than the mainland,” he said. “I don’t think it takes a lot of explaining to understand why if you are from Hawaii. We have a mixture of people, starting from your neighbor, when you go to school, and when you go to work. We all get along. We live in a good place.”
The department didn’t issue any citations during the handful of Black Lives Matters protests in Kona, Wagner said, which isn’t abnormal.
“Historically being on officer on this island for my entire career, all the protests I have seen have been peaceful,” he said.
While the Hawaii police prohibited choke holds in August 2003, Ferreira, with more than 30 years on the force, told West Hawaii Today that officers hadn’t received training on the techniques since the early 1980s. Using a knee to restrain a person lying face down, as was done with Floyd, was a technique that was also never taught, he told the paper.
“We are different,” Kim said. “I’m proud of that.”
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