In a letter to HPD, Mateo Caballero, legal director at the ACLU of Hawaii, said he has “serious constitutional and civil rights concerns about recent reports of racial bias and disparities in arrests and use of force by the Honolulu Police Department.”
The letter, sent Sunday, was addressed to Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, Honolulu Police Commission Chairwoman Shannon Alivado and HPD senior legal adviser Lynne Goto Uyema.
ACLU Hawaii’s legal director, Mateo Caballero, addresses the Honolulu Police Commission in 2017.
The movement has also highlighted the systemic racial inequality that exists in Hawaii, particularly in the criminal justice system, that affects Black, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander communities. Even though Hawaii has a smaller percentage of Black residents compared to other states, they face disproportionate use of force by Honolulu police and negative implicit bias more generally.
In his letter, Caballero cited recent articles in Civil Beat and on Hawaii Public Radio that highlighted racial disparities and the need for better data collection and reporting.
An investigation by Hawaii Public Radio found that 26% of arrests for stay-at-home order enforcement involved Micronesian residents, who make up 1% of the population. Samoan and Black people were also disproportionately arrested.
Caballero called on HPD to stop aggressively enforcing low-level offenses; adopt better policies to prevent racial profiling; change how HPD measures success; and release accurate data to the public. He also asked HPD to release all public records related to its enforcement of pandemic-related orders.
“Racial profiling is not only the act of selecting or targeting minorities for law enforcement contact, but also includes policies or practices (such as broken window policing or sweeps) that have a disparate impact on disadvantaged communities,” Caballero wrote. He added that the “data for the COVID-19 orders showed that while a vast number of arrests happened in Kalihi, there were very few or no arrests in Kahala, Manoa, Kailua and Hawaii Kai.”
Ballard has been open to some changes, such as temporarily stopping the use of vascular neck restraints, and has acknowledged the need for the department to provide better data. But she has repeatedly said that HPD does not need broad-based reform.
Alivado also responded defensively in a recent police commission meeting to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser column that said the commission should serve as a watchdog. She said that the commission acts “not as single watchdogs, but as a collective body” that works with the chief to improve the department. Two reform-minded police commissioners recently quit out of frustration, saying they felt that they were unable to make meaningful change.
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