Legislators seek more law enforcement oversight

Published: Feb. 10, 2016 at 10:49 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2016 at 11:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is the only state in the country without a statewide agency that sets standards and training requirements for law enforcement officers.

But that could change if one of two proposals before the state Legislature is approved this year.

Efforts to pass a statewide set of standards for police officers, deputy sheriffs and others have failed at the Legislature in recent years under opposition from the politically powerful police union and the Honolulu Police Department, which says its training standards meet or exceed those used by other states' standards agencies.

Some state lawmakers said recent examples of law enforcement misbehavior show a need for statewide standards.

In recent months:

  • A Honolulu police officer was sentenced to federal prison for a gambling room assault caught on video.
  • A state Department of Land and Natural Resources officer was charged with sexual assault. He had been hired by the state after being fired by the Honolulu Police department.
  • An HPD sergeant was fired for fighting with his girlfriend in public.

"It seems like in some cases, their standards and their training, they are failing," said State Sen. Will Espero, vice chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee. "This will provide better oversight."

Espero introduced a bill signed by 16 other senators calling for creation of a state board that would develop standards and training requirements for any member of county or state law enforcement who carries a gun and wears a badge.

"That police officer in Kauai should just be as trained and qualified as the police officer on the Big Island," Espero said. "And it helps not only the departments and the agencies, but it builds the trust and faith in the public, which has been lost in the last few years."

State Sen. Laura Thielen's proposal would go further, allowing a state law enforcement standards board to certify all police, deputy sheriffs and others in the state and revoking an officer's certification for "serious misconduct."

"It's going to help the reputation and ultimately the morale for all the good officers that we have in the state," Thielen said.

"Rather than having a situation right now where it's internal only, without any type of transparency or public accountability, you would transition toward a higher-level process with a statewide standards board," Thielen added.

The Honolulu Police Department opposes both proposals.

"We believe that the HPD currently meets the highest standards possible for a law enforcement agency," said Major Gordon Shiraishi, who's in charge of the training division.

"We also have stringent procedures and guidelines for investigating police officers' misconduct and any determination resulting in discipline," Shiraishi said.

The Honolulu Police Department said its officers get more than 1,100 hours of initial recruit training, which he characterized as among the longest and most stringent police training in the country.

But Espero said the recent incidents involving officers show that something needs to change.

"With the news items which were just this week alone, one really questions what is going on with these officers? Who's in charge and where is the leadership?" he asked.

Espero was referring to two reports by Hawaii News Now on Monday that revealed more alleged wrongdoing at HPD.

In one case, an internal investigation has been launched into alleged cheating at the HPD Training Academy.

In another, records show an HPD officer gave a police sergeant accused of drunken driving a ride home in Kaneohe but only later when officers realized he was accused of crashing into a median with his car did the officers arrest him for driving drunk.

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