At least one Honolulu police officer lost their job and another four were suspended for excessive use of force or misconduct toward the public in the past few years, according to a report recently submitted to the Legislature. But that’s about all the public, including the lawmakers, will get to know about those cases under the current system of disclosure.
In response to such a general lack of details about police activities in Hawaii, even in cases where members of the public are injured or killed, state legislators are pushing this year to require more details in the annual reports.
The Honolulu Police Department’s most-recent annual report on internal discipline provides a list of violations and disciplinary actions taken against 61 HPD officers between 2017 and 2021. Some of those cases involve on-duty actions and unreasonable use of force.
According to the report, for example, an unnamed officer used excessive force and injured an individual while attempting to take the person into custody at an undisclosed time and place. The officer was fired, and their case is currently in arbitration. So, lawmakers want to know, what exactly happened?
The annual report, however, does not give further details on what led up to the incident, including why the officer felt the need to use force and what type of force was used.
In fact, none of the violations in the report give much more than a brief description of an officer’s alleged misconduct.
Lawmakers want county police departments to collect data and provide more details on those use of force incidents. Along those lines, Sen. Stanley Chang introduced Senate Bill 2318, which would require all of Hawaii’s county police departments to submit an annual report of its police stops, use of force incidents and arrests.
The report, which would include cases from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of each year, would force departments to include more details about nearly every encounter with the public. It would require officers to collect detailed information about a suspect, including an arrestee’s educational background and marital status.
In this template, the departments would be required to provide the date, time and location of an arrest, including what led to the incident, including traffic stops, whether a search was conducted and if it was consensual. Officers would also need to collect information on the race, gender, and ethnicity of any person stopped.
If passed, the bill would also require law enforcement to collect a victim’s level of education, conviction history and prior contacts with police.
Robert Cavaco, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, called the requirement “intrusive” to “crime victims right after they have been victimized.”
“This approach lacks compassion and may hinder our ability to get victims and witnesses to cooperate during our investigations,” Cavaco said.
Chang modeled the bill after Washington D.C.’s Neighborhood Engagement Achieve Results Act.
Chang said the goal of the NEAR Act is to improve community relations and combat biased policing. It requires the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to submit an annual report.
He hopes that Hawaii’s version would identify use of force trends and an analysis of policing in the state.
“In order to make informed public policy, the Legislature needs as much information as possible,” Chang said. “Everyone is flying blind here, and we’re trying to address these critical issues.”
But Cavaco believes the bill would take officers away from the streets where they need to do their jobs.
“This proposal will tie officers up with a huge amount of unnecessary paperwork, making them unable to respond to emergency calls at a time when many of our county departments are suffering from chronic and dangerous (levels of) police staffing,” Cavaco said. “The bill is not ready for prime time and will have negative unintended consequences to the public’s safety.”
University of Hawaii professor and criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind agrees that the bill isn’t the right approach to police reform. She said the bill’s requirements would be “overkill” and leave departments “drowning in data.”
“We need more training and more education, and we do also need more robust systems of accountability, but I don’t think we need to have everybody sitting hunched over an iPad or a computer in their police vehicles for three hours reporting on the characteristics of the people they talk to,” said Chesney-Lind. “It’s already the case, if you talk to police officers, they complain about the paperwork, and they complain about having to document as much as they do. Well, this would just ratchet it up.”
“I think that the real world experience in Washington D.C. shows that this measure would not be too much administratively to implement,” Chang said. “We’re sensitive to all of these concerns that are being raised, but without the data we have no ability to assess whether any claims on anyone’s side are true.”
SB 2318 must clear its first hearing by Friday to continue through the legislative session this year.
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Maria Cid Medina is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist with a background in print. She resides and reports in the San Francisco Bay Area and has covered a wide range of stories from crime to corruption and housing issues.