The Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board may soon become a permanent state fixture after a bill that would keep the panel from disbanding received support from two House committees.

On Thursday, the House Finance Committee voted unanimously to pass House Bill 1329, which would allow the board to operate indefinitely and establishes four-year terms for members of the panel, which reviews fatal police shootings and makes recommendations on whether officers should be criminally prosecuted.

The bill is a carryover from 2021, that was resurrected this year after lawmakers failed to give it any committee hearings last year. It will now move on to the full House for a floor vote.

Law Enforcement Independent Review Board Screenshot
The Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board will become permanent if HB1239 is passed. Screenshot/2021

If the bill is not signed into law, the board will automatically dissolve by July of this year.

As it was initially proposed, the bill would have expanded the board’s power to investigate cases of alleged police misconduct in addition to fatal police shootings, but the measure was amended to remove that clause.

Amendments to the bill would also slightly reduce the representation of law enforcement on the nine-member board, which is currently made up of former police officers, judges and prosecutors. The amendments seek to include five members of the public on the board, appointed by the governor. They would include one person each from Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai, as well as two people from Honolulu.

“The legislature finds that public trust in law enforcement is critical to ensuring justice for all under the law,” the bill, introduced by Rep. Adrian Tam, states. “The legislature further finds that the difficult and often dangerous job of law enforcement is safer, easier, and more effectively executed when citizens trust those empowered to serve and protect them.”

The ACLU of Hawaii, which helped introduce the 2016 legislation that created the board, submitted testimony regarding the current bill calling for additional representation on the panel from civic organizations and members of disenfranchised communities.

“Without adequate representation of the communities most impacted by policing … the Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board will not work as a meaningful oversight body with checks on abuses of police power,” Carrie Shirota, policy director at the ACLU of Hawaii, testified. “Civilian oversight bodies must be given real power or else they risk being performative political statements with no actual ‘teeth’ or power.”

Since its creation, the board has released 11 recommendations regarding police shootings — 10 on Oahu and one on Hawaii island. The board did not release its first recommendation until 2021 — four years after the panel’s creation in 2017.

In every case the board has reviewed, it has found officers to be justified in their actions and has yet to recommend a case be prosecuted.

Those cases include the death of Renie Cablay, a former jail guard who was shot to death by Honolulu police officers after he threatened them with a knife at his Waipahu condo complex in 2018.

The board advised against prosecution in a recommendation posted in 2021, after the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office had already declined to take the case up.

The board also recommended not charging the officers who fatally shot Lindani Myeni, a 29-year-old South African national who was killed in April 2021. That review was posted in early December 2021 — months after Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm announced he was not pursuing charges against the officers.

So far, the only group that has publicly opposed the continuation of the shooting review board is the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. It submitted testimony calling for the Legislature to reject the bill and instead focus on policing itself amid ongoing scandals that include bribery cases involving former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English and former Rep. Ty Cullen.

“So when we see a bill like this that has the legislature stating its purpose is to enhance the public’s trust in law enforcement, we ask you to please look at yourselves and your own house before you point the fingers at our hard working and courageous officers who are out there every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, putting their lives on the line for you and our community,” SHOPO President Robert Cavaco wrote.

Cavaco went on say that lawmakers should be addressing staffing shortages at the Honolulu Police Department, an issue that has become the police union’s public focus since Cavaco took office in January.

“Rather than finding ways to continue a relentless attack against our officers, how about helping us find ways to fill the empty beats that severely compromises the community’s safety and leaves our most vulnerable community members such as our senior citizens targets of broad daylight assaults and robberies,” Cavaco wrote.

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