The Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wants the Honolulu Police Department to implement a series of reforms to correct local racial disparities in policing.

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. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The ACLU’s request comes in the midst of a nationwide push for police reform in the weeks following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Roughly 10,000 people in Honolulu walked in solidarity with Black Lives Matter last month. The Hawaii Legislature is advancing a measure to bring more transparency to police misconduct.

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.

The recent Civil Beat articles he cited include: a story exploring how Native Hawaiian, Black and other Pacific Islander residents were disproportionately the subject of police force in Honolulu between 2010 and 2018; an investigation into how HPD’s use-of-force annual reports severely undercount police killings; and a database containing summaries of two decades of Honolulu police misconduct.

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.

In a video message to HPD officers July 2, she said that HPD can improve but added, “Does our department need sweeping reforms? Absolutely not.”

She also recently said publicly that she thinks there’s a lot less implicit bias in Hawaii, even though local research indicates that’s not the case.

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.

Read the full letter below:

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