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HPD Chief Takes Issue With Police Reform Bill

June 26, 2020, 7:30 AM HST
* Updated June 26, 6:49 AM
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The names of disciplined police officers could soon become public record.

On Wednesday a legislative conference committee passed a measure that would require the disclosure of the identity of officers who are suspended or discharged for misconduct in county police departments’ annual report to the legislature. The bill is expected to go before the full House and Senate during floor sessions next week for a final vote.

House Bill 285 removes the exemption for police from disclosure under Hawai‘i’s Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) and clarifies additional authorities and powers of the Law Enforcement Standards Board. Amending the UIPA code effectively holds police to the same standard as civil servants.

“Transparency is critical to maintaining the public trust when you’re in charge of enforcing the law,” said Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, Chair of the House Labor and Public Employment Committee. “The Legislature needed to take this step to help support and differentiate the many good officers who keep us safe from those who abuse their position of power.”

This police reform comes after several weeks of protests against law enforcement on the Contiguous United States (CONUS), sparked by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed in police custody.

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Hawai‘i Police Department Chief Paul Ferreira says he understands the intent of the legislation, but as written, did not support the version passed by the committee.

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“…It is being pushed forward in response to what is occurring in the CONUS and not necessarily what is occurring locally,” the chief stated in an email Thursday.

Ferreira doesn’t think this legislation affectedly provides the transparency lawmakers are hoping for.

“The effect of this legislation as written would simply be a way to put police officers on public display for public shaming for what could be a minor infraction,” the chief said.

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Ferreira added that he really has no major concerns about the release of names of officers that have been terminated from the department for wrongdoings that are serious in nature (i.e., criminal violation, abuse of powers, etc.) after they have been afforded their due process rights.

“I have serious concerns about releasing the names of officers suspended for minor infractions (i.e., late report, tardiness, insubordination, etc.), without being afforded their due process rights,” the chief explained.

Ferreira said the police department, unlike any other government agency he’s aware of, has strict policies and procedures that officers must adhere to or face disciplinary action; this includes the off-duty conduct of an officer.

The chief believes it is necessary to withhold names of officers who have committed minor infractions so as not to publicly humiliate them or their families.

“Additionally, officers must consistently endure ridiculing or derogatory remarks from persons they encounter, but the release of this information will simply add more substance to the degrading of all officers,” Ferreira said.

The passage of this measure builds on several years of work by legislators hoping for greater police transparency and reform.

“The steps this bill takes will increase transparency, build trust in law enforcement, and make it easier for our good officers to do their difficult jobs with the help of a supportive community that trusts them,” said Rep. Chris Lee, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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