Advocates of police records reform lament lack of 'significant change'

Advocates of police records reform lament lack of 'significant change'

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha being forced into retirement and a host of other officers being targeted by a federal probe, open government advocates were hoping 2017 would be the year that lawmakers could lift the veil of secrecy behind police disciplinary records.

With just several weeks left in the legislative session, however, it does not appear that any police reform bills will survive.

"I don't think they had an appetite to take on a real significant change, for the last couple of years, in terms of making police disciplinary records more open," said Brian Black, of the Civil Beat Law Center.

For the vast majority of government workers, suspensions are matters of public record. But that's not true for police.

Under current law, the public is only entitled to the disciplinary records of officers who have been fired or have been charged with crimes. But in most such records, the names of police officers are redacted.

The state's police officers union argues that revealing officers names could put them and their families in danger.

"We need to recognize the demands and the challenges the officers go through every day," said Tenari Maafala, of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. "And not just the officers, their spouses and their children."

Advocates wanted the exemption for police officers to be eliminated completely, but lawmakers watered down the proposal so much that only officers who had been disicplined twice in five years would face disclosure.

The proposals became so weak, critics say, that even reform advocates withdrew their support for them.

"I'm not disappointed that the bills are not moving, because they really weren't what I considered a significant change," said Black.

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