Oahu voters overwhelmingly approve new powers for police commission

Oahu voters overwhelmingly approve new powers for police commission
Published: Nov. 9, 2016 at 9:48 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2016 at 11:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Voters have spoken: They want a stronger Honolulu Police Commission.

On Tuesday, Oahu voters overwhelmingly supported a Honolulu charter amendment that gives the civilian commission more power.

Some 225,757 voted "yes" to the question, "Should the police commission have greater authority to suspend or dismiss the chief of police and have additional powers to investigate complaints concerning officer misconduct, and should the chief of police be required to submit a written explanation for his or her disagreement with the commission?" Meanwhile, 49,067 voters opposed the change.

"People want more oversight, they want transparency," said state Sen. Will Espero, a critic of Honolulu Police Department management. "They want to have improvement in the way the police department and the police commission operates."

The adopted measure gives the police commission greater authority to investigate complaints from the public, even allowing commissioners to issue subpoenas.

Tenari Maafala, president of the police union, agrees with that part of the amendment. He said a lot of the complaints by the public are anonymous, so further investigation and forcing witnesses to come forward will help officers defend themselves.

But what Maafala does not like about the amendment is it makes the police chief an at-will employee who can be fired without cause.

"It's political now," said Maafala, pointing out that the commissioners are chosen by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.  "I feel sorry for any candidate that wants to become a chief."

The commission has been criticized for not doing its own digging into the federal case against Chief Louis Kealoha.

A federal grand jury has been hearing testimony against him and his wife, deputy city Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha. Both are facing federal public corruption charges.

Former Mayor Peter Carlisle says the ongoing case definitely influenced voters on the charter amendment proposal.

"They look at it as something that sullies the reputation of the police department and so the commission should now step in and do all these aggressive things," Carlisle said.

But Carlisle is also concerned about the new powers given to the body. He said there are other agencies that better equipped to investigate officers and the chief.

"What you don't want to do is have the police commission running the police department."

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