A board to oversee police in the state may finally be able to hire staff and begin developing standards after languishing for the past four years, leaving Hawaii as the only state without the ability to certify police officers.

The Law Enforcement Standards Board, which lawmakers created in 2018, has held intermittent meetings since then. But it has lacked the money it needs to fund staff positions to develop basic standards for Hawaii law enforcement. The board has come to the Legislature four times requesting additional resources and been denied each time.

This year, according to finance committee chairs, lawmakers reached an agreement to fund the board.

MPD Chief Swearing in
A statewide board to oversee law enforcement in Hawaii may finally get off the ground this year with money from the Legislature. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

But the final amount of funding is still not clear. Although the state’s budget bill has already been sent to Gov. David Ige and lawmakers have adjourned the 2022 session, details and line items in the state budget are still being ironed out. The budget worksheets are expected to be completed by next Friday, legislative staff said.

The standards board will be getting at least $88,000 to pay an administrator and office assistant to support the board and provide research services, according to details of the budget provided by House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke and Senate Ways and Means Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz.

The Senate proposed up to $483,000 to pay for office space and equipment in addition to staff salaries. But those terms weren’t agreed to during budget negotiations.

Ige must still approve the state’s nearly $9 billion supplemental budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The governor has until June 27 to announce which bills he intends to veto.

Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck, who heads the standards board, was not in the office Friday and couldn’t be reached for comment, according to a department spokesman.

Even if it gets money this year, the board still estimates that it could take until 2024 to implement minimum qualifications for officers. Hawaii is one of 11 states that also allows for officer decertification.

Measures to fund the board received support from the Hawaii County and Honolulu Police Departments.

“Establishing minimum standards for employment as a law enforcement officer and certifying persons qualified as law enforcement officers, is not a task to be taken lightly and requires dedicated resources,” Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira wrote in testimony to lawmakers.

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

Other recommendations the standards board made to lawmakers were rejected. Proposals that would have expanded membership of the board to include more police officers or allow currently employed officers to skip the new certification system altogether failed this session.

Former HPD Detective Connie Shaw-Fujii was one who opposed those provisions. In written testimony, she said current officers should have time to conform to new requirements and called for metrics to evaluate current officers against the minimum standards for new hires.

“However, if they are really incompetent or a liability to the state, do we want to keep them?” she asked.

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