After the Honolulu Police Department reported an increase in the use of force in 2019, a member of the Honolulu Police Commission is seeking answers from Police Chief Susan Ballard.
Commissioner Michael Broderick asked Ballard on Wednesday to provide a detailed briefing at the Dec. 16 commission meeting on the report’s findings and recommendations.
The analysis found there were over 2,300 instances in which officers used force last year — up from 2,070 instances in 2018. These cases include physical contact or confrontations such as the unholstering of a gun, deploying pepper spray and using a baton. Police killed five people.
It also noted that Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, such as Micronesians and Samoans, were disproportionately impacted by uses of force. More than a third of incidents involved someone from those communities despite those groups making up only about a quarter of Hawaii’s population.
Black people were impacted more disproportionately than any other racial group, according to the report.
Police Commissioner Michael Broderick wants to delve deeper into the Honolulu Police Department’s use of force.
The committee was formed after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police and international protests. Officials are continuing to deliberate on what HPD’s policy should say, according to Police Commissioner Richard Parry, a member of the committee.
“The chief has looked at it and made several comments, and it will be completed very soon,” Parry said. “We should be finalizing that policy in the next several weeks.”
Ballard made no comment on the effort on Wednesday.
Civil Beat has submitted repeated requests to HPD for copies of the committee’s recommendations on the use of force policy. HPD has not provided them.
“The policy is presently in the last stages of the revision process,” HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said by email in September.
Civil Beat followed up earlier this month to ask again for records reflecting the committee’s opinion on the use of force policy. Yu did not respond.
Calls For More Accountability
Two people called into Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting, which is broadcast online only, to urge the group to hold HPD more accountable.
Citing the use of force report, one caller, Cathy Lee, asked whether the commission would review HPD’s citation and arrest records and request data that is disaggregated by race to examine impacts on marginalized communities.
Commission Chair Shannon Alivado heard from two community members who want more HPD accountability and transparency.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said it would be most appropriate for the police chief, not the commission, to address that. However, she said the commission has asked HPD about racial disparities, specifically regarding concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union.
“That is something the commission has definitely been asking about and looking more into, but with respect to the chief doing anything more directed to that, that is something we can bring up to the chief’s attention as well,” she said.
Another member of the public, Jessica Hernandez, said Honolulu should seek to reduce interactions between the public and police “as a harm reduction matter.”
In Hernandez’s view, there are too many examples of police escalation that have led to civilian and officer injuries or deaths.
“When this happens, the chief and other police apologists typically place blame on civilians,” she said.
“And I want to know that the chief is trying to make sure that the only contact that the public has with police is necessary, and that when that contact happens, the officers are diligently trying to make sure everyone walks away healthy, with no potential for physical or emotional scarring.”
Both Lee and Hernandez expressed concerns about HPD beyond the use of force issue.
Lee also said she was “disturbed” at the last commission meeting when a motion to request that Ballard establish an HPD conflict of interest policy did not pass unanimously. Alivado and Commissioner Carrie Okinaga voted against it.
“What can the commission do in the event that Ballard decides conflict of interest language is unnecessary in HPD’s code of ethics?” Lee asked.
“I don’t have an answer for that, in particular,” Alivado responded, but indicated that the commission could use the chief’s evaluation as leverage.
Lee also said HPD’s spending of overtime, particularly what is being covered by federal CARES Act funds, should be done in a more open way. To find a breakdown of HPD’s CARES spending – which is over $30 million – one has to search through the city website, which is not very intuitive, she said.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration provided a CARES briefing to council members on Wednesday but did not post the latest spending data on the city website. Civil Beat requested it from Caldwell’s office but did not receive a response.
HPD should make this information “easily accessible” for the public, Lee said.
“Transparency and accountability go hand in hand,” she said.
It’s not easy to find data on HPD’s CARES spending, such as its purchase of ATVs.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Alivado noted that the Police Commission has formed a permitted interaction group to look at HPD’s budget. Commissioner Doug Chin is chairing that effort.
In addition, Hernandez took issue with the fact that Ballard’s 2020 evaluation is listed on the commission’s agenda for executive session, which is not open to the public.
“All questions, concerns and comments from the commission should be public,” she said.
“Community members should know what our commissioners are saying to the chief because it’s people like me who bear the brunt of any fallout from the issues that the commission and/or the chief decide are unimportant and doesn’t deserve further attention.”
She noted that the chief’s 2019 evaluation is “woefully devoid of relevant criteria.” It should include clear, measurable objectives and a plan for meeting them. In Hernandez’s opinion, Ballard’s last report lacks that.
“I also don’t see any discussion around police misconduct, complaints against police or the actual effectiveness of Honolulu’s police department,” she said. “And how can an evaluation of a police chief not evaluate the actual police department’s actions as it relates to public safety?”
She added: “I really hope you are not using the number of citations or arrests as evidence of improved public safety.”
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