A bill that proponents say would have dramatically increased police transparency across the state has died after four Senate committees failed to take it up this session.

Senate Bill 2318 is the second iteration of a measure proposed last year that would have required each county police department to collect data on who is being subjected to police stops, use of force and arrest. The information would be compiled into a report and submitted to the Legislature each year to inform potential policy changes.

The bill is nearly identical to a measure that was proposed last year and made it through the Senate. It was referred to the House before being carried over to this year. The House has yet to schedule any hearings for the carryover bill this year, indicating that it too will likely die on March 23, the deadline for the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee to vote on the measure.

Honolulu Police Department patrols with unmasked person in foreground in Waikiki during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bill that died in the Senate this year would have greatly increased transparency of police departments across the state, supporters say. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Both bills would require county police departments to provide lawmakers with a comprehensive annual breakdown of nearly every encounter they had with the public over the previous year, including the race, gender, and ethnicity of any person stopped or arrested by officers.

It would also include details about crime victims, such as their education level, marital status, number of prior arrests and relationship with the person arrested.

Sen. Stanley Chang, who introduced both bills, told Civil Beat that the intention behind the proposals was to better inform policymakers about policing disparities that could help spur legislative reforms.

“I think it’s safe to say that there’s a greater public interest than ever on these important topics,” Chang said. “I do think that we need to do a better job of making this information public and having public conversation that is informed by the data.”

Chang said he was unaware that the Honolulu Police Department already compiles data on use of force incidents, which are included in annual reports that are available through a public records request. Civil Beat has obtained past copies of HPD’s Use of Force reports, but they are not routinely sent to the Legislature or published on the department’s website.

It is unclear if other county departments compile annual use of force reports although none have been released publicly.

“Not only do we need to work harder on this issue, but we also need to improve the flow of communication on the data that does exist,” Chang said.

Although HPD already compiles statistics on use of force incidents and other county departments document each individual incident, Senate Bill 2318 and its predecessor would require a much more comprehensive data collection effort that would have gone beyond the limited factors that have been reported.

For example, HPD’s annual report includes the number of use-of-force incidents and the type of force used alongside a rudimentary analysis of a subject’s gender and race. The reports lump all Micronesian, Samoan, Tongan and Marshallese individuals together with Native Hawaiians into the category of “Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.”

“In recent years there have been some very high profile shootings from the COFA communities (Compact of Free Association Migrants) and a gentleman from southern Africa,” Chang said, referring to the deaths of Iremamber Sykap and Lindani Myeni. “I don’t think that lumping categories together is the most helpful way for us to try to address the policy situation.”

Beyond the use of force reports, HPD does not publicly release any comprehensive data on police stops, arrest demographics, or crime victims.

There were no committee hearings or testimony on the bill this year, but last year it received the support of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, the state Office of the Public Defender and the ACLU of Hawaii.

“I think we need more transparency and I think that’s been the case for a long time,” Josh Wisch, executive director of the ACLU of Hawaii, said. “One of the reasons for a bill like this is we know racial bias is a persistent problem in policing and if we can get this kind of disaggregated data that’s more publicly available, we might shine a light on that and be able to figure out some ways to address it.”

The bill also had its detractors, including every county police department in the state.

Honolulu Police Department Headquarters.
In a statement, HPD said it supports the intent of the bill but not the way it is currently written. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

In a statement, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said that the department “supports the bill’s intent but not the current draft as written.”

“The department’s concerns primarily involve the confidential nature of the information to be collected, the amount of time needed to obtain additional information, and the need to develop a computerized data tracking system for the information,” Yu said.

Last year, the four county chiefs of police submitted joint testimony in opposition to the bill citing a variety of objections including that it would divert essential resources away from policing to collect data.

“As the data collection required under this bill exceeds what is currently collected, county departments simply do not have the discretionary personnel or funding to accomplish the requirements of this bill,” the Police Chiefs Of Hawaii Association wrote to the Legislature last year.

Despite the testimony, legislators made no provision for funding in this year’s bill and made few if any changes addressing the chiefs’ concerns.

Experts suggest there are solutions to law enforcement agencies’ staffing and budgetary concerns, including outsourcing data collection and analysis to more qualified groups.

Bob Scales, a former prosecutor in Washington state and public safety advisor for the city of Seattle who now heads the private data science firm Police Strategies, said that Hawaii lawmakers should model their next version of the bill after a measure passed by the Washington State Legislature last year that gives academic institutions the job of analyzing police data.

The bill — passed with the full support of both the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and the Washington Fraternal Order of Police — created a data collection project that will be housed and managed at a university in Washington state that will be selected after a competitive bidding process.

“Unless you include some type of expert or academics in the program, it’s not going to work because the police do not know how to collect and analyze this data,” Scales said.

Scales, whose firm is partnering with Seattle University to bid on the Washington state contract, said that Police Strategies has created a novel data collection system that takes up to 150 factors into account when looking at each individual use of force incident.

These data points are then combined with historical data to get a comprehensive understanding of departmental trends, Scales said.

“If you’re just counting the number of times a taser is used or the number of times an officer is injured or whatever the basic data elements are, there’s very little you can do with that data,” Scales said. “Even if you’re the most advanced statistician around, if you don’t have good data to work with, there’s not much you can do with it.”

Scales estimated that the cost to analyze data from Washington state’s 274 law enforcement agencies would be around $10 million for the first two years.

However, he said that the project could be executed for much less money in Hawaii, which has four county police departments, a statewide sheriff’s department, and the law enforcement agency for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“You could definitely do it for much less than what Washington’s doing it for,” Scales said. “The costs are really based on the number of agencies and the number of cases you’re going to have to deal with.”

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?

About the Author