Alcohol Ban Proposed for Off-Duty Police Carrying Guns
A bill prompted by a fatal shooting by an off-duty federal agent on Oahu is making its way through the state Senate.
Senate Bill 2590 would prohibit state and county law enforcement officers from consuming alcohol while carrying a firearm.
Sen. Will Espero said he introduced the bill to address a variety of concerns related to the 2011 shooting by State Department special agent Christopher Deedy in a Waikiki McDonalds restaurant.
(Deedy was tried for murder in the case which resulted in a mistrial in August. A retrial is scheduled for later this year.)
The bill would also prohibit firearm-carrying officers from ingesting any prescription medication that would impair their “judgment or physical response.”
“We expect the best from those who serve and protect, and we hold them to the highest standards,” said Espero, a Democrat who represents the area of Oahu around Pearl Harbor. “This bill helps to ensure the safety of both civilians and law enforcement in the state.”
The bill was passed last week during a joint hearing held by two Senate committees, which referred it next to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor.
The vote was unanimous in favor of the bill, although Sen. Sam Slom voted yes with reservations in both committees.
Before taking a vote, the committees first amended the bill to exempt officers taking part in undercover operations.
Ted Sakai, director of the Department of Public Safety, submitted testimony in favor of an amended version of the bill.
“In the past, [law enforcement officers] have been compelled to take small amounts of alcohol/drugs during investigations to develop intelligence, or evidence, for criminal prosecutions that may conflict with policies or procedures based upon this proposed law,” Sakai’s testimony said.
The Police Chiefs of Hawaii Association opposes the bill, calling it “vague and ambiguous.”
It said that all of the county police departments already have administrative rules “that prohibit the possession of firearms while impaired.”
The association submitted testimony citing the need for an exemption not only for undercover officers but also for off-duty officers called in for evacuations or traffic control during emergency situations.
Also testifying against the measure was the Maui Police Department, which also cited existing internal policies.
The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers is also opposed to the bill.
“To our knowledge, for at least the last several decades, there has not been an issue involving city and county police officers and the improper use of their firearms while under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs,” SHOPO President Tenari Ma`afala said in written testimony.
In other police matters, Espero also introduced Senate Bill 2591, which would broaden the amount of information in the annual report each county’s police department is required to file with the Legislature on disciplinary actions taken against officers.
The report does not name officers involved.
Additional information that would be required would include whether other incidents were committed by the same police officer and, in cases in which the union grievance procedure has concluded, whether the incident involved conduct punishable as a crime.
The release of disciplinary records was the subject of a ruling Monday by an Oahu judge.
Ruling on a lawsuit filed by Civil Beat, the judge ruled that the Honolulu Police Department must release the disciplinary records of 12 officers who were suspended for misconduct.