Several police reforms poised to pass Legislature, others die in session

Several police reforms poised to pass Legislature, others die in session

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Police conduct and how police assert their authority were at the heart of several legislative proposals this year.

Three times as many law enforcement oversight bills were introduced this legislative session compared to last. And while the majority of them didn't make it, several fundamental changes designed to increase transparency are set to pass Tuesday when lawmakers make their final votes.

Among the major initiatives: Lawmakers have agreed to fund an independent review board run by the state Attorney General's office -- and not police departments -- to investigate the death or serious injury of anyone in police custody.

Some are calling it the most successful legislative police reform to pass in years.

"The department will still investigate, but this board will be able to do their own investigation, ask their own questions to make certain that the follow-up is properly done and there is no cover-up," said state Sen. Will Espero, vice chairman of the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs Committee.

Still, other proposed reforms didn't survive. For example, Hawaii will remain the only state in the country that doesn't have law enforcement training and hiring standards for anyone carrying a badge and a gun.

"The person that washes my dog's hair gets a license by the state. The police don't. That's got to be fixed," said Aaron Hunger, a former police officer in Florida and California who teaches criminal justice classes at Remington College and researches oversight at the Honolulu Police Department for the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

This is the fourth year an attempt to create a standards board has failed. Law enforcement onlookers call it a major disappointment.

"It provides the public with a level of knowledge that their police department is operating at a professional level, so standards and training are very important," said Tommy Aiu, Hawaii News Now's law enforcement expert.

Meanwhile, a bill that would have established requirements for body and vehicle cameras for all county police departments also died this session, despite attempts to balance public interest in disclosure against the privacy issues of those who were filmed.

Advocates say it would have created the most comprehensive body camera policy in the country if it had passed.

"The foundation of any law enforcement and how it engages with the public is really police transparency and law enforcement being accountable to the public that they serve," said Mandy Finlay, the advocacy coordinator with ACLU of Hawaii.

Supporters of the measure say access to the recordings were still a top concern, given that it would be subject to the government deciding what the footage is appropriate to be released and when.

However, lawmakers did re-affirm the public's right to film police. Experts say that will create a level of community-based oversight many other pieces of legislation couldn't accomplish.

"When police begin to understand that they're constantly open to professional scrutiny through video-taping and video cameras and that from the moment they leave the station they're going to be on-camera, professional standards will be adhered to and policies will begin to be followed," said Hunger.

Two other measures are also expected to get final approval Thursday.

One is a bill that requires timely crime statistics reporting to the state attorney general. Another creates the mandatory inventory of sex assault kits that have yet to be tested. Lawmakers have also committed $500,000 to get 500 kits in HPD's backlog examined immediately.

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