Don’t Let The Proposed Honolulu Police Ballot Questions Die - Honolulu Civil Beat


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The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


The Honolulu Police Commission has been in the news a lot over the past few years, and for important reasons.

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They include the continuing scandal over a former chief now behind bars, his severance pay, another chief who bailed early after a poor review, a time-consuming search for a permanent chief, concerns over use of force policy and questions about the qualifications and political loyalties of the police commissioners themselves.

For these reasons and others, Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters in February introduced four proposed amendments to the city’s charter that would address the values of the Honolulu Police Department as well as qualifications for the police chief and the police commission. The commission, a civilian body, would also be given more power to oversee HPD and its chief.

If approved by the council, voters would have the opportunity to vote on the amendments in November. But only one of the measures has been heard by Honolulu City Councilwoman Andria Tupola’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee. The other three ballot proposals have not been heard at all, and Tupola said Friday that all four measures are dead this year.

That’s a true disservice to the public and she — or the council — should reconsider.

The resolutions should be heard, debated and placed before voters for the ultimate say. There’s still plenty of time — the deadline to approve the resolutions for the November general election ballot is not until July 6.

Here’s what the resolutions would do:

Resolution 22-29, the only one to have been heard thus far, proposes to alter the membership of the seven-seat, volunteer police commission, which has the authority to hire and fire the police chief and to oversee HPD.

At minimum, according to a proposed draft of 22-29 from Councilwoman Radiant Cordero, the commission would only need to have one member employed in the fields of social work or behavioral health, and one member with experience working with at-risk youth. The original draft also called for one member who is a licensed attorney and one member who is a former member of a law enforcement entity.

As well, three commissioners would be appointed by the council on an alternating basis. The other four would be appointed by the mayor, who currently makes all seven appointments, which are confirmed by the council.

Honolulu Police Commission Commissioner and Chair Shannon Alivado speaks duirng meeting that 4 chief finalists appeared and gave closing remarks.
Honolulu Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado and her six colleagues are lukewarm to changing the commission, as is proposed under a charter amendment question. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Both versions state that the council believes “increased diversity of personality, experience, opinion, and knowledge, as it relates to the important work” of the commission would serve “as a strong foundation to foster trust and confidence in law enforcement within our communities.”

They also call for requiring that all commissioners demonstrate “empathy, integrity, sound judgment, and ability to work with individuals from diverse racial, social, and economic demographics.”

And the council also believes that “certain qualifications” for some members “will allow for more effective oversight, ensure accountability” and align with the commission’s mission. That mission is “to improve police community relations and community confidence in the police department by eliminating conflicts of interests, by promoting collaboration between the police department and the community, and by promoting transparency, fairness, and equity in the police department.”

Resolution 22-29 received on April 19 and May 4 several testimonies in support of the changes. But all seven current members of the police commission testified jointly on April 19 that, while they share the concerns about vacancies on the police force and difficulties recruiting new members, changes to the city charter “require careful study in order to avoid negative or unintended consequences.”

The commissioners also don’t like the idea of adding requirements for work experience that, ironically, might make it more difficult to find qualified volunteers willing to serve on the commission, they wrote.

Resolution 22-29 also calls for commissioners to disclose publicly before appointment any personal, professional or financial conflict of interest “that could bear upon the individual’s performance” as a commissioner.

Honolulu City Council member Andria Tupola speaks during council meeting held at Honolulu Hale.
Honolulu City Council member Andria Tupola is wrong not to hold public hearings on proposed changes to the city charter that would improve the Honolulu Police Commission. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Resolution 22-28 would allow the police commission to censure chiefs and suspend them with or without pay. The commission would also be able to review the chief’s five-year plan for the department and make recommendations — including rejecting the plan and requiring a new one.

The resolution states that the council believes that a stronger commission “is in the best interest of the public, and that providing it with greater authority will enable more effective oversight, ensure accountability, improve HPD and public safety as a whole.”

Resolution 22-30, in the meantime, would mandate that candidates for chief have a bachelor’s degree, a commitment to modern policing, training in de-escalation and experience in strategic planning. The chief should also have no criminal convictions related to violence or dishonesty, and no history of bias.

And the resolution would add “accountability, transparency and public service” into the HPD’s statement of policy and require regular public updates to the community through “open and honest communication.”

The other resolution, 22-31, would expand the responsibilities of the police commission by requiring that it submit annual reports not only to the mayor but the council and the chief. Those reports would have to include the council’s budget and policy recommendations, and to include as well public complaints about HPD.

Reached Friday, Tupola said in a statement that her council colleagues raised concerns about Resolution 22-29. There would also be no action on the other resolutions while it awaits a city audit of the police to be completed.

“These are big decisions, and all of these proposals must ultimately improve the police department and strengthen our criminal justice system,” Tupola wrote. “This was a brief timeline, and unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to consider options before sending them to voters for further consideration.”

In fact, the council still has several weeks to hear all four resolutions and to act on them, if it wants to. It would signal to the voting public that the council does indeed care about improving policing on our island.

Voters have previously shown that they very much care about the Honolulu Police Commission and its work.

In 2016 78% of voters approved a charter amendment that gave the commission more authority to rein in problem officers, providing it with subpoena power to compel witnesses to testify and force the disclosure of sensitive information. The amendment also allowed commissioners to suspend or fire a police chief for substance abuse, a failure to properly command the department or because his or her actions create a pervasive sense of mistrust and resentment among community members.

All of the resolutions proposed by Waters deserve a robust discussion by the council and the community.

But unless the council chooses to have that discussion, these ideas will go nowhere.

If you, too, think the public should have the opportunity to have its say on who sits on the police commission and other issues, you can reach Tupola this way: (808) 768-5001, or atupola@honolulu.gov.


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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

Curious, is there some sort of measure of efficiency or productivity expected of these committees or of the individual council members. I get it some legislation may require more thought and effort, but there should be some sort of measure of bills heard, approved, rejected, pending by committee, and council member.

surferx808 · 4 months ago

While ideas to reform the police commission are laudable on the surface, these proposals will do nothing to truly change the nature of the commission or how policing is overseen by government officials in Hawaii. Instead of looking at the equivalent of moving the deck chairs on the Titanic and calling that reform and change, one should truly go into the commission and the HPD itself and find out what its intrinsic problems are that need to be resolved. Is it a culture issue, a bad policing and training issue? Or is it as simple as giving the new chief full reign to do what they need to do to get HPD up to snuff as to its job in the community? Any of these ideas will need input by many, but at the end we will be resolving real issues that have festered in HPD at least since the time Louis was Chief. At the end, HPD needs to be looked at, its problems figured out and have those issues addressed. Not legislate new things that will only be used, if passed, as campaign tidbits for candidates that are going to move up to higher office from the Council.

Kana_Hawaii · 4 months ago

She's the decider. Just like Donovan Dela Cruz. Who needs to vote when you have Andrea and Donovan? It's not like it matters.

Fred_Garvin · 4 months ago

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