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The Honolulu Police Department says it may need to track how its officers use force to identify bias and is considering making some policy changes to that end, according to the agency’s newly released annual use-of-force report.
The analysis said there were more than 2,300 instances in which officers used force in 2019 — about four instances per 1,000 calls for service. That’s up from 2,070 instances in 2018.
Nearly three-quarters involved physical contact or physical confrontations; 21% involved a gun, including the act of unholstering it for building searches; 3% involved the use of a chemical agent such as pepper spray; 1% involved the use of a weapon such as a baton; and another 1% involved verbal commands.
Officers used force in a variety of situations, such as when people were not complying with orders or acting aggressively against them. More than 16% of use-of-force incidents involved situations in which officers said they were facing no resistance.
There were significant racial disparities in who force was used against last year. More than a third of the time the incidents involved people who were Native Hawaiian or another Pacific Islander ethnicity, such as Micronesian or Samoan. That’s disproportionately high for the communities that make up about a quarter of Hawaii’s population.
Black people were subject to the most disproportionate use of police force in relation to their share of the state population. They made up 7.4% of HPD incidents involving force, even though the community makes up between 2% and 4% of Hawaii’s population.
Last year’s racial disparities are consistent with disparities reported in HPD annual use of force reports over the past 10 years. A Hawaii Public Radio analysis of arrests this year due to pandemic stay-at-home orders found Micronesian, Samoan and Black people were disproportionately arrested.
Akiemi Glenn, who leads the Popolo Project, a nonprofit dedicated to telling the stories of Hawaii’s Black community, said the data is disappointing but not surprising.
“That’s really alarming that police would use force when there’s no resistance,” she said. She added that the racial categories that HPD uses could benefit from disaggregation, given that so many people in Hawaii identify as mixed race.
“We deserve answers about why our police department sees force as a viable and useful way of engaging with community members when they’re in moments of distress,” she said.
The 2019 use of force report doesn’t provide much information about police killings last year. The report notes that eight people died at the hands of Honolulu police officers last year, five by guns and three by “physical contact.” That’s the highest number of annual deaths in more than a decade.
But there’s no information about the people who died or the officers involved, not even the names of the people who died. The executive summary highlights that five people were shot to death, but the total number of people killed by police doesn’t appear until page 11 of the 18-page report.
A Civil Beat analysis, confirmed with HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu, found that the people who were killed by police last year include Sherianne Nixon; Siatuu Tauai Jr.; Kyle Thomas; Michael Kahalehoe; Dustin Spencer; Dana Brown; Peter Purcell and Danny Colton.
Another 18 people sustained serious or substantial injury due to police use of force, and 471 were injured to some degree, the report said.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard told Civil Beat in June that the department would delay the release of the report to ensure its accuracy after Civil Beat revealed that previous reports consistently undercounted the number of people killed by Honolulu police. The report notes that two separate databases kept by two HPD divisions contributed to data discrepancies.
The report lists 12 recommendations mainly focused on improving data collection to better track when and how officers use force and what trends exist.
Among them: officers and supervisors should have better training on filling out the use of force form and there should be better accountability to ensure the forms are properly completed. The department’s rules say that officers are supposed to fill out use of force forms after every encounter that involves force.
Another recommendation is to revise the use of force report to allow police officers to indicate when they deploy a canine. There’s currently no data in the annual summary that indicates how often officers use a canine against subjects.
The report also notes that the latest statistics may be misleading.
“The statistics contained in the Annual Use of Force Report severely misrepresents Deadly Force reporting as it includes unholstering of a firearm even when a subject is not encountered (i.e.: state of readiness, building searches, etc.),” the report says.
After national calls for police reform following the death of a Black man, George Floyd, earlier this year in Minneapolis, HPD set up a committee to review the use of force policy. But Sarah Yoro, a spokeswoman for HPD, said in an email that the recommendations in the report “did not come from the committee; however, they were shared with the committee and all of the recommendations are expected to eventually be adopted.”
She said the recommendations were formed by a separate committee made up of people from HPD’s administrative operations, professional standards, human resources and information technology divisions.
Ballard has previously said that she hoped the national police reform movement would skip Hawaii and said implicit bias is less of an issue in Hawaii compared with the mainland. Studies show that implicit bias is just as strong in Hawaii as the mainland, with negative attitudes particularly strong against people who are Black and Micronesian.
Ballard did not respond to multiple requests for an interview over the past two weeks sent to HPD spokeswomen Yoro and Yu.
Read the report here:
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