Exclusive: undercover officers question HPD's ban on masks, hoods

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - They wear masks to conceal their identities during police raids. Now, undercover officers are expressing concern over the Honolulu Police Department's ban on wearing masks and hoods.

When police storm a suspected drug or gambling house, you often see a few officers hiding their faces. That's usually because this type of raid happens after the officers gather information by posing as drug buyers or gamblers.

"Some druggie sees them there and say, eh, that guy or that gal was at Junior's house last week buying dope. You're burned," a retired HPD plainclothes officer, who doesn't want his identity released, said.

Current and former officers say masks and hoods provide protection for those working in a rough environment.

"I've had undercover officers that were, each and every time they went out, were deathly afraid of going out," the retired officer said. "But they did the job anyway."

But Chief Boisse Correa recently told his officers to stop wearing hoods, a move that's raising concerns.

"I would surely hope that they would re-evaluate the position that they're taking," the retired officer said.

"Officers were recently reminded not to wear hoods during operations," Michelle Yu, HPD spokeswoman, said. "This is to avoid confusion and to assist the public in identifying officers at crime scenes.

"I would hate to think that this is a knee-jerk reaction to a complaint that may have come in," the retired officer said.

Our interviewee, who worked for many years in the Narcotics-Vice Division, says he never heard of a no-hood policy. Yu acknowledges it's not written anywhere.

"For me, it always goes back to officer safety," the retired officer said. "What is the safest thing for the person working in that environment?"