For the third time, the board overseeing police in Hawaii plans to ask state lawmakers for more money and more time to develop basic certification standards.
The Law Enforcement Standards Board already blew off a 2019 deadline to have those standards ready because members say they lack the necessary staff and resources to accomplish what the board is mandated to do. The Legislature, which created the 15-member board in 2018, has also twice refused to take up the board’s funding requests.
Hawaii is the last state in the U.S. to create a board that would set minimum standards for law enforcement officers and have the authority to revoke their certification.
But in the two years of its existence and after only a handful of meetings, the police standards board has only managed to advance proposals to the Legislature asking for money and deadline extensions. It has not set any standards or put in place a certification process.
The board has previously asked for $483,000 to hire an executive director and additional staff and take until 2023 to come up with standards.
The board voted to forward a similar request to the coming Legislature during a meeting Thursday where board members also discussed administrative procedures and took a small step toward getting the ball rolling on completing its task.
“Hopefully we will be successful in obtaining the resources we need to move forward with this program,” Kauai Police Chief and Board Chair Todd Raybuck said.
The new request comes just months after lawmakers gave the board until Dec. 31, 2021 to finish the standards.
It also comes at a time police are facing a national reckoning over use of force, which has also led to citizens calling for police funds to be used for other purposes. Along with those social factors, lawmakers will also need to contend with a budget hole currently estimated at $2 billion, which will make any funding requests from agencies difficult to push through the Legislature.
In addition to asking for an extension until 2023 and $483,000, the board’s proposal also would increase the number of rank-and-file police on the board from two to five, one for each county as well as an officer from the state.
That would mean law enforcement representation would outnumber the four seats currently set aside for citizens. The remaining nine seats on the board are state department heads and police chiefs, who all ask in the proposed measure that they be allowed to send proxies to board meetings.
The measure would also add a clause that grandfathers in current police officers, effectively allowing them to sidestep any new standards and decertification requirements.
Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira said that without that line, the police departments would have to fire and then rehire all of their officers.
But the language of the clause also means officers already employed as of 2023 would not have to go through a certification process set by the board.
Gary Yamashiroya, a new board member and former Chicago police officer, said that although current officers would be exempt, they should still have to get additional training that complies with the board standards as part of the officer’s annual recall training.
Tivoli Faaumu, chief of the Maui Police Department, worried about how decertification would mesh with officers’ union contracts. That’s an issue Raybuck said could be addressed as the members try to develop their training and certification standards.
State lawmakers gave the board the explicit power to decertify officers in a law passed this year, now called Act 47. The measure also removed a 25-year-old exemption from the law that hid police misconduct records from the public.
Act 47 also gave the board until Dec. 31, 2021 to finalize its training and certification standards. The law that created the board had set a deadline of July 1, 2019. At the time, the board had met only once.
Raybuck reiterated that the board needs more resources to do its job, and that dedicated staff and an executive director would be able to handle daily tasks and devote more time to developing the standards required by law.
As it is now, the board, Raybuck said, is “comprised of people that have full time jobs, with many, many responsibilities.”
Other state boards in the West, like those in California, Nevada and Arizona, also employ staff separate from the law enforcement officials who sit on the state boards and commissions.
Board members also voted on Thursday to allow Raybuck to send letters to other state standards boards to gather information on policing standards that can be applied to Hawaii.
And while meetings have been sporadic in the last two years, the board decided that, going forward, it should meet every other month. Its next meeting is expected in early December.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell