The Honolulu Police Department is resisting pressure from its oversight board and civil rights attorneys to implement a policy prohibiting conflicts of interest.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii requested a policy change when it sued an officer who arrested his son’s high school rival in 2018. The lawsuit alleged the officer had a clear conflict of interest and that he abused his power to retaliate against the boy, who was then 15 years old.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard speaks to media about the recent Ahuimanu shooting death on December 28, 2020
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard issued a one-day suspension to an officer who arrested his son’s classmate, according to a summary report on police misconduct. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The City Council approved a $150,000 settlement for the boy and his mother last week. But the ACLU said on Tuesday that the Honolulu Police Department refused the plaintiffs’ requests for an apology and a commitment from the city to adopt policies and training to prevent abuses of power related to conflicts of interest from happening again.

“We are extremely disappointed that the city outright refused even to consider changing its policies or writing our son an apology letter,” Jenna Rivera, the mother of the boy who was arrested, said in a statement. “We wanted to ensure that no other families suffer the way we had to. But without policy change, HPD officers can continue with business as usual, and that’s scary to us.”

It wasn’t just the ACLU that asked for the policy change. The Honolulu Police Commission, to which Chief Susan Ballard reports, voted in November to request a change after the ACLU lawsuit was filed.

Police Commissioner Michael Broderick said on Tuesday that the chief has never indicated to the commission that she didn’t plan to implement the policy members requested.

“She did raise concerns about coming up with a policy while that lawsuit was pending,” he said. “I plan to bring it up at the next meeting, find out what the status of it is.”

On Tuesday afternoon, HPD and the City and County of Honolulu Department of Corporation Counsel issued a joint statement saying that the department’s current policies and the city’s standards of conduct “were sufficient in providing direction to officers and addressing conflicts of interest in this particular situation.”

“Honolulu Police officers as well as all other City employees are subject to the Standard of Conduct provided in the City Charter and the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu,” the agencies said.

“In addition, the City understands that HPD’s current policies provide additional standards that, among other things, mandate that officers must never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities, or friendships to influence decisions, and that officers cannot investigate cases in which they are victims or suspects.  In addition, both the City policies and HPD policies require all police officers to take biennial ethics training.”

They added: “In this case, the settlement represents a reasonable resolution of the litigation.”

Ultimately, the officer who was sued, Kirk Uemura, appears to have faced a one-day suspension. That’s according to a description matching the allegations against Uemura that are included in a summary report on police misconduct issued to state lawmakers. The report reflects that the officer is currently appealing his discipline.

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