Honolulu Civil Beat filed a lawsuit Friday to get data from the Honolulu Police Department on the amount of overtime each officer has worked in the past five years.

The suit comes after HPD’s denial of a public records request Civil Beat filed in November for data showing all HPD employees, their job titles and their overtime totals from 2015 through 2020.

“This is really straightforward information about how taxpayer money is being spent,” said Brian Black, an attorney representing Civil Beat in the case and executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest.

It’s well established in every jurisdiction, and well established here, that this information should be public. The idea that the police department is withholding it is odd.”

Data on police officer overtime is routinely shared with the public in other cities, including BostonPhoenixNew York and Seattle.

Civil Beat requested the information after Hawaii News Now reported several dozen officers on the COVID-19 enforcement teams had violated department limitations on overtime. The department has since disbanded the teams and launched a criminal investigation of four officers who were accused of leaving work early.

Civil Beat later obtained HPD documents that showed officers have been able to double their salaries with overtime for years. In 2019, some officers were on track to earn more than the police chief and the mayor, according to the records.

HPD Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard stands with colleagues before press conference at the Waikiki substation during COVID-19 pandemic.
The Honolulu Police Department often denies requests for public records or fails to respond to them entirely. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

HPD’s overtime expenditures have ballooned in recent years from about $19 million in fiscal year 2015 to $38 million in fiscal year 2019, according to the city auditor. 

In response to Civil Beat’s records request, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu cited an exemption to Hawaii’s public records law for information that would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The Hawaii Office of Information Practices has maintained that “The performance or nonperformance of public duties is not a ‘highly personal’ or ‘private’ or ‘intimate’ matter, the disclosure of which would constitute a ‘clearly unwarranted’ invasion of personal privacy.”

On Friday, Yu said that HPD Chief Susan Ballard declined to comment “due to the pending litigation.”

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