Four years after it was put in place by the Legislature, an agency tasked with overseeing police officers and their training in Hawaii may finally get the money necessary to begin operating.

The Legislature created the Law Enforcement Standards Board in 2018 to certify county and state law enforcement officers. The board also has the power to strip officers of their policing powers.

Hawaii was the last state in the country to create such a board. Other states have had similar agencies in place for decades.

Hawaii’s board hasn’t been able to accomplish much, however, because it lacked the funding necessary to hire staff and carry out its responsibilities.

A joint committee of state senators voted unanimously Wednesday morning to advance Senate Bill 1046, a funding measure for the board. The House Finance Committee approved a companion measure, House Bill 892, on Feb. 24. That both chambers of the Legislature have advanced funding proposals is a good sign the police standards board may get a boost to its budget.

The board is asking lawmakers for $483,000 to cover salaries for an executive director and staff as well as office space and supplies. Board members, who include the chiefs of each police department and heads of state departments that employ law enforcement, are not paid to sit on the board.

MPD Chief Swearing in
Lawmakers are advancing measures that would fund Hawaii’s police standards board, which has been hampered by a lack of funding for years. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

Both bills now head to floor votes in the House and Senate.

Lawmakers have declined to provide the board with additional funding in each of the last three years. Lawmakers gave the board $100,000 in startup cash in 2018, but the money was never spent and lapsed back to state coffers.

The Senate Ways and Means and Judiciary Committees didn’t take public testimony at the hearing Wednesday.

Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck, who is also chairman of the standards board, told lawmakers in written testimony that “the board will be unable to successfully implement the will of the Legislature” without these resources.

How much money the Legislature ultimately provides the standards board is still uncertain. The AG’s office, to which the board is administratively attached, has also asked lawmakers for a budget increase of $88,000 to fund a portion of the board’s staff salaries.

Whether the board is funded through the state budget or the bills moving through the Legislature, it won’t have access to that additional money until July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

SB 1046 would give the board until July 1, 2024 to finalize standards for officer training and certification. The board must also develop a process to decertify problem officers.

The deadline was originally set for 2019 but has been extended multiple times due to delays.

Under the two bills, police standards would only apply to officers recruited after 2024. The way the bill is written, current officers would be grandfathered into the new system under the new standards law. It’s also not clear if the board would be able to decertify officers who were employed prior to 2024.

The Law Enforcement Standards Board, at a virtual meeting in October, is a step closer to having funds necessary to hire an executive director. Screenshot/2021

SB 1046 had support from the AG’s office as well as the state departments of Taxation, Public Safety and Transportation. The Hawaii County Police Department also supported the bill.

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, Hawaii’s statewide police union, opposed the measure.

SHOPO President Robert Cavaco called the bill “another knee jerk reaction to the George Floyd situation” despite the fact the board was created two years before Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020. That officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. Floyd’s murder sparked national outrage and spurred a renewed examination of police practices in the U.S.

In Cavaco’s written testimony to lawmakers, the union president says that the board’s standards would be duplicative of those that officers are already required to follow. He notes that each county police department is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

CALEA also accredits many other mainland police departments, whose officers are also required to follow rules set forth by their state’s standards boards.

Cavaco also raised issues with the grandfather clause and worries it could cause dissension within police ranks. He also asked lawmakers to add a union representative to the board. That request wasn’t taken up Wednesday.

A separate measure, House Bill 1239, would open the way for more police officers to serve on the standards board. That bill is scheduled for a hearing Thursday.

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