A years-long effort to establish minimum certification and training standards for police officers in Hawaii may be delayed until at least 2024 under a proposal approved Tuesday by the state’s primary law enforcement oversight agency.

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The Hawaii Law Enforcement Standards Board was created in 2018 to oversee officer conduct, certify new officers and decertify any who fail to meet the board’s standards. It was supposed to set those standards in 2019. However, funding issues have plagued the board and stalled its work.

The Legislature gave the board until Dec. 31 to set those minimum standards. But without any staff, the board likely won’t hit that deadline either.

In what’s become an annual tradition, the board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask state lawmakers for more time and more money to set police standards. It is the board’s fourth attempt at getting more resources to do its job.

A proposal that stalled last legislative session asks for the state to delay implementing minimum officer qualifications until 2023. On Tuesday, the board asked to delay implementing standards until July 1, 2024. 

“This is an important issue for our state, and we have been pursuing it for too many years already,” Kauai Police Chief and board chairman Todd Raybuck said. “Pushing it out won’t be beneficial for anyone, but I am concerned it’s much too short a timeline to be compliant if this bill goes into effect.” 

Rather than introducing an entirely new bill next legislative session, the standards board decided to ask lawmakers to make changes to the measure that’s sitting in the Senate.

Senate Bill 1046 would give the board $292,500 to cover expenses and hire an executive director and clerical worker who would help the board investigate officers in the state.

HPD police officers stage before the Aloha Freedom Coalition march from the Honolulu Zoo in Waikiki on saturday.
Efforts to establish minimum qualifications for police officers in Hawaii are expected to be delayed a few more years. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Sen. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he supports the board but doesn’t know yet what the state’s full budget picture will look like next year.

“I don’t know how tight money is going to be,” Rhoads said. “It’s not much money in the broad scheme of things, but it’s still money.”

Dedicated staff and funding is common for other police standards boards in the country.

Lawmakers initially allocated $100,000 in startup funds for the board, but that money lapsed and went unspent. 

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Lawmakers say they support the board but have been reluctant to provide more funding without assurances from Gov. David Ige’s administration to follow through with hiring staff. A separate commission to oversee jails and prisons has been stalled because of delays in hiring an executive director.

Earlier this year, Ige said he would commit to staffing both boards. And the governor gave the corrections commission the green light to hire staff on Oct. 1.

The bill would also exempt current officers from having to go through the qualification process if “termination of employment would violate any valid collective bargaining agreement,” the bill reads.

Earlier this year, public testifiers worried that provision would make the board useless for at least a decade if it exempts all current officers from the law.

Other states like Alabama and Nebraska also include “grandfather” clauses in their laws that set up standards boards in those states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Also Tuesday, a subgroup of the standards board released a report on how other states oversee their police forces.

The Law Enforcement Standards Board, at a virtual meeting Tuesday, plans to discuss officer requirements and decertification standards in December. Screenshot/2021

The Hawaii board sent out a questionnaire to all other 49 state standards commissions. A total of 18 replied to the Hawaii survey.

The Hawaii board queried the other agencies on their funding sources, staffing levels, age and education requirements, grounds for revocation, reporting terminations, internal investigations and in-service training requirements.

The board found that eight of the standards commissions that responded get revenue from their state’s general fund or from court assessments on criminal violations.

The board also found a wide range for staffing levels. Some commissions have as few as two staffers while others that must run statewide training academies might have several dozen.

There are also a wide range of circumstances that could land an officer in hot water and at risk of being decertified. Some states would only revoke officer certification for felony charges while others can decertify officers for a range of bad behavior.

All states that responded to the survey require departments to share information on fired and disciplined officers with the state standards board. Such information is typically shared to prevent problem officers from transferring departments.

Seven states that responded don’t allow police unions to get involved in the decertification process while the others said that officers are afforded due process rights if they could lose their badge.

The board plans to discuss the standards and rules at its next meeting tentatively planned for early December, according to Raybuck.

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