Hawaii Poll: Public trust split in HPD misconduct investigations

Hawaii Poll: Public trust split in HPD misconduct investigations
Updated: Feb. 4, 2015 at 12:18 AM HST
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Tenari Maafala
Tenari Maafala
Meda Chesney-Lind
Meda Chesney-Lind

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Department and its chief have faced tough questions about transparency and accountability. The latest Hawaii Poll reveals mixed feelings about HPD's investigations into police shootings and alleged misconduct.

Honolulu police officers killed two men in 2014. An officer shot Richard Nelson, 52, in July. Authorities said he was drunk and driving recklessly in Waikiki, hitting a bus and a tree. A week later, police fatally shot James Pickard Jr., 51, in Pacific Palisades. Two officers fired at him after he tried to run them over with a stolen car, according to authorities. The officers involved in both cases were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Video of two other incidents involving officers brought intense scrutiny to the department's policies. Surveillance video showed undercover officer Vince Morre attacking two men in a gambling parlor. The FBI is now investigating the police brutality case. In another encounter, Sgt. Darren Cachola's rough sparring with his girlfriend was caught on camera. A grand jury decided not to indict him. HPD is still conducting an internal administrative investigation.

Ward Research conducted the Hawaii News Now/Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll last month. 52% of respondents said "yes" when asked, "Do you trust the Honolulu Police Department to investigate its own officers in cases of police shootings or police brutality?" 46% said "no."

"I think the protocols that we have in place, the checks and balances in making sure that the department is accountable, is all in place," said Tenari Maafala, president of SHOPO Hawaii.

Respondents who answered "no" were asked, "Who do you trust to investigate police officers in cases of police shootings or police brutality?" 22% said they trusted the Honolulu Police Commission while 68% did not. 56% said they trusted the state attorney general while 32% did not. 43% said they trusted the city prosecutor's office while 51% did not.

Criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind is skeptical of the ability of prosecutors to hold police accountable. She and her colleagues analyzed the outcomes of 512 HPD disciplinary cases.

"These were disciplinary complaints between the years of 2000 and 2012. Only 33 resulted in a criminal conviction and only 5 led to the dismissal of officers," said Chesney-Lind, a professor at UH Manoa.

"There's got to be a balance, first and foremost, from a legal perspective. Each officer is afforded and should be afforded their due process, and they should be innocent until proven guilty," said Maafala.

Police Chief Louis Kealoha's leadership is also under fire. Along with the police discipline controversies, he was accused of deliberately causing a mistrial in federal court and using his power to help his wife in a family legal dispute. Some state lawmakers suggested that he needed co-chiefs to help run the department.

35% of respondents had a favorable opinion of Kealoha, compared to 30% with an unfavorable opinion. 24% said they didn't know enough to form an opinion.

Chesney-Lind said the Hawaii Poll results reflect a need for change.

"These point to a crisis in public confidence in the police department that really warrants some leadership and we haven't really seen much of that it seems to me," she said.

City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro's favorability rating was 42%.

Kaneshiro and Kealoha both declined to comment on the poll results.

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