The Hawaii police union is in the midst of a positive media campaign.
For at least the past two weeks, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers has been running a series of commercials on local televisions stations meant to promote its officers and push back against the many criticisms that have been levied against them in recent years.
One of the ads features the daughter of slain HPD officer Tiffany Enriquez, who was shot and killed last year along with another police officer when responding to a call at Diamond Head.
Enriquez’s daughter, Teiya, speaks to the audience as images of Enriquez in uniform linger on the screen.
“Mommy could be tough, but she had a huge heart, and she was the kind of officer who could change for the better the way people thought about police,” she says. “If you were my mom’s friend, you share my grief, my pain, knowing that the last watch of her life came much too soon.”
In another spot, the ad opens with an image of the federal courthouse in downtown Honolulu, where corrupt police officers, including former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha, were found guilty of abusing their police powers and sentenced to prison.
“You know we’ll be on the news when things go wrong,” the narrator says as the image turns to an officer fist bumping children in a neighborhood.
“What you never see are the hundreds of successes of Hawaii’s police men and women everyday. Officers risking their lives and asking nothing in return. We’re not good at telling our story. That’s because we’re in law enforcement, not PR.”
A third ad features HPD officer Taryn Osborne looking into the camera as a woman, presumably Osborne, talks about the “weight” of wearing a police badge.
“This badge is my promise to protect you always,” she says. “Criticize me. But unless you have worn the silver or gold you will never really understand the true weight of my badge.”
“We’re not good at telling our story. That’s because we’re in law enforcement, not PR.” — SHOPO narrator
The timing is significant.
Last year, the Hawaii Legislature lifted the veil on officer misconduct, which for years had been kept mostly confidential at SHOPO’s urging.
The union filed a series of legal challenges meant to keep officer’s disciplinary files hidden from public view, but so far has been unsuccessful in overturning the law and maintaining the secrecy.
SHOPO, too, is currently in the midst of contract negotiations with the state and four counties over a new collective bargaining agreement that dictates how much officers get paid and lays out the ways in which they can be disciplined — or not — for their misconduct.
The Honolulu Police Department, the state’s largest with nearly 1,800 officers, is also in the midst of a leadership and morale crisis.
Police Chief Susan Ballard has come under scrutiny for a number of things ranging from the increase in fatal uses of force by her officers to disparate treatment of Micronesians and other people of color, including Blacks and Native Hawaiians, to how she’s decided to spend federal coronavirus relief aid, a subject that’s now under federal investigation.
Hawaii’s other police chiefs have not been immune from scandal.
On Maui, Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu is set to retire amidst questions over how he responded to a minor hit-and-run accident he was involved in at a Kahului shopping center.
Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck, meanwhile, has come under fire for racist remarks he made about Asians. Raybuck, who was hired in 2019 after he retired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, is white.
All of these controversies are playing out during a national debate about policing in America.
SHOPO’s ads are airing while Derek Chauvin stands trial in front of a national TV audience for killing George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May 2020.
Chauvin, a white police officer, was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck during an arrest for more than eight minutes, which ultimately led to his death. The killing sparked nationwide protests and calls for reform.
SHOPO President Malcolm Lutu did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment about the union’s advertising campaign.
The fact that the union is spending money to promote itself and its members is not that unusual.
About 10% of SHOPO’s expenditures are dedicated to advertising, according to federal tax records. From 2014 to 2018, for instance, the union spent more than $1 million to promote the union and its officers. The same tax filings show that each year SHOPO collects about $2.4 million in dues from its membership.
Meda Chesney-Lind, a criminologist and professor emerita of women’s studies at the University of Hawaii, said it’s clear from the advertising that SHOPO is trying to improve the stature of police officers in the community given the national discourse surrounding policing.
She also noted the significance of HPD highlighting the stories of female officers when the department has struggled for years to recruit women to the police force.
“There’s pressure nationally and there’s pressure locally for police accountability and to look at the role of policing in the community so I imagine that’s what’s prompting this,” Chesney-Lind said.
There’s also a need to talk about what policing should look like moving forward, she said, especially as police officers across the country are increasingly called upon to grapple with complex social issues, such as mental illness and homelessness, that are normally the purview of other qualified professionals.
“Of course, it’s tough to be a police officer and everybody understands the stress involved,” Chesney-Lind said. “So this should also be a conversation we’re having locally.”
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