New oversight panel to investigate officer-involved deaths

New oversight panel to investigate officer-involved deaths

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A measure set to take effect next year will establish an independent review board to investigate all deaths in which an officer was involved.

Senate Bill 2196, which will become law with or without the governor's signature, gives the state Attorney General the power to pick the nine members of the panel.

The panel must consist of a deputy attorney general, a former prosecuting attorney from each county, a retired judge, a former high-ranking law enforcement officer, and two members of the community.

The panel is being seen as a way to hold police more accountable to the public.

State Sen. Will Espero, who introduced the bill, said the panel is long overdue.

"It's about time that our state did something like this," he said, adding that many mainland states have similar review boards.

Hawaii's panel won't just look at fatal shootings, but any situation that involves a death, including traffic accidents or those involving the use of a Taser.

The independent review board will work simultaneously with internal investigations.

"The big difference is there's another set of eyes that reports directly to the Attorney General," said University of Hawaii Criminology Instructor Aaron Hunger.

Law enforcement agencies will have to cooperate with the review board. And after an investigation is complete, the board will make recommendations about whether any involved officers should face criminal charges or if further investigation is needed.

Those recommendations are voluntary only, and will go to the county prosecutor where the incident happened.

Members of the panel won't be paid, but will be reimbursed for travel and expenses, since some cases will require flying to other counties.

The law takes effect in July 2017.

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