HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Department is opposing an effort to create statewide standards and training for law enforcement officers, while state law enforcement agencies support the proposal.
State senators grilled a police major – whose division faces an internal cheating investigation – when he said the department has a "gold standard" rating for its operations.
Hawaii is the only state in the country without a statewide law enforcement training and standards board. On Thursday, HPD sent Major Gordon Shiraishi, head of its training division, to testify against a proposal to create such a panel. Shiraishi told senators from the Senate Public Safety and Consumer Protection committees that HPD already has achieved a "gold standard" assessment from a national accreditation commission.
"So it's not like we're not doing anything to better, first of all, ourselves as far as training officers. We're constantly doing that," Shiraishi said.
State Sen. Will Espero, vice chairman of the public safety committee, shot back: "If you are the gold standard, then that says a lot about our training. Sadly, based on recent actions and practices and news stories, many in the public would disagree with that statement."
State Sen. Roslyn Baker, chair of the consumer protection committee, added, "It seems to me that there is something that is not quite right."
Baker and Espero took issue with the police department's "gold standard" claim in light of numerous recent cases of police officer misbehavior, leading to some of them being suspended, fired and sent to prison.
"We need to have some oversight and to strive for better. We don't want to become a place that looks like Ferguson, Missouri, or some of the other folks," Baker said.
On Monday, Hawaii News Now reported an internal investigation is underway into whether recruits at HPD's training academy -- that Shiraishi oversees -- received test answers in advance.
"Your academy is under investigation for cheating. What does that say to the public for new recruits?" Espero asked.
Shiraishi wouldn't comment on the ongoing investigation, but said: "Everyone is faced with problems. And yes, HPD does address these problems immediately. We don't sweep it under the rug."
But sources said Shiraishi and his training captain are under scrutiny for allegedly trying to sweep the cheating scandal under the rug. They're accused of receiving anonymous complaints about recruits cheating, but not immediately calling internal affairs to start a probe.
"I don't think there's any agency out there that has not had problems. And no one is perfect," Shiraishi said.
Sources said Shiraishi is being transferred to HPD's patrol division in Hawaii Kai and East Honolulu on Feb. 28.
State Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chairman of the Senate public safety committee, said, "I think there are instances where there are bad players and I think that raises the issue from the public about whether or not the training or the selection of those individuals who may protect us may fall short."
Two senate committees approved the statewide standards board measure (SB2755) Thursday, but rejected a tougher measure (SB2325) that would allow the board to revoke the certification of an officer found to have committed serious wrongdoing.
One critic who has studied accountability at HPD said that creates a toothless standard that cannot be enforced.
"The committees really missed out on an opportunity today to create that agency, instead creating a bureaucratic agency that has no mechanism to enforce any type of standards," said Aaron Hunger, a former police officer in Florida and California who is now a criminal justice instructor at UH Manoa and Remington College in Honolulu.
While HPD opposed the standards proposal, state law enforcement agencies supported it.
"The public and the state would be well served with the institution of a recognized and open standard for the training and certification of law enforcement officers in all jurisdictions statewide," said written testimony submitted by Nolan Espinda, director of the state Public Safety Department, which oversees the Sheriffs Division that protects state facilities including the state Capitol and Honolulu Airport.
The Public Safety Department opposed the more stringent measure that would revoke certification of officers who misbehave.
"The provision to deny/remove certification of currently serving law enforcement officers may actually conflict with existing state/county laws and regulations that govern the hiring, training, and dismissal of employees, as well as provisions of existing collective bargaining agreements," Espinda said.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources, which also has law enforcement officers who enforce environmental laws, supported the proposal.
"The (land) department believes that this measure will provide important standards that will provide a common core of knowledge and training for state and county law enforcement officers statewide," said Suzanne Case, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, in written testimony. "The establishment of a Law Enforcement Standards and Training Board will assist in establishing these important standards."
The standards proposal still must be approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed by Gov. David Ige before becoming law.