Calls for police reform strengthened in light of misconduct allegations in MPD

Updated: Aug. 28, 2019 at 6:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui Police Officer Brandon Saffeels was suspended last year after a woman complained to Internal Affairs that he was trying to exchange information for sexual favors, Hawaii News Now has learned.

Most states disclose details of suspensions and firings of police officers but in Hawaii, that information is kept confidential.

“Whose rights are more important, the officer’s right to privacy or the public’s right to know?” asks Ken Lawson of the University of Hawaii Law School.

Legislation to change the practice has failed in previous years but Brian Black, Executive Director of the Civil Beat Law Center for Public Interest, says a bill that has already been approved by the senate, could pass quickly in the house during the next session.

“It would make police officers just like all other government employees when it comes to suspensions or discharges, the information is going to be available.”

Black says If it was made known that Saffeels was suspended last year, other women might have come forward sooner and Saffeels could have been taken off the streets.

Altogether, four women have contacted Hawaii News Now regarding alleged harassment. They either provided text messages, selfies sent by Saffeels, or audio recordings.

Saffeels was arrested earlier this week on charges of attempted perjury, hindering prosecution and tampering with a witness.

Black says public disclosure would have helped the Maui Police Department in this situation. Up until now, the woman who complained didn’t know Internal Affairs even took her case, “It’s the ability for the department to generate public trust and confidence in their officers to be able to say we’re open about how we deal with complaints against officers." Black says SHOPO, the police union is the main opposition to the bill.

Written testimony from SHOPO says disclosing the information would “wipe out the current privacy protections afforded police officers,” and that the only reason for the disclosure of information is the "selling of newspapers, shaming our officers’ families and discouraging new recruits from joining the department.”

Ken Lawson says reform doesn’t just help the department’s image that they take discipline seriously, it also helps the law abiding officers working alongside those accused.

“As an honest cop, beat cop, I want to know if the cop next to me is dirty.”

Saffeels is free on $50,000 bail.

The FBI is investigating the case, sources say, as a potential color of law violation.

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