Police standards board requesting more time, money

  • Attorney General Russell Suzuki, left, and Gov. David Ige.

The Law Enforcement Standards Board is asking the state Legislature for additional time and money to create and implement statewide standards for training and certification of county and state law enforcement officers.

The nine ex officio members of the 15-member board created by Act 220 — which Gov. David Ige allowed to become law without his signature last July 10 — had its first meeting on Nov. 7. On Dec. 27, the Department of the Attorney General, which administers the board, sent its required annual report to Senate President Ronald Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki.

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According to the report, Attorney General Russell Suzuki was elected board chairman, and Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu was tabbed as vice chairman. The report also passed a rule limiting public testimony at board meetings to three minutes per testifier, per agenda item, “in the interest of time” and proposed legislation to amend Act 220.

In addition, the board reported it hasn’t spent any of the $100,000 appropriated by the law and deposited into the board’s special fund.

Act 220 mandated that programs for statewide standards for training and certification of officers be in place by July 1.

Before allowing the law to take effect without his signature, Ige filed a notice of intent to veto House Bill 2071, which became Act 220.

“I definitely agree with the intent of the proposal, to try and create a statewide standards board. But when I looked at it, and why I put it on the veto list is I do believe that it’s not funded at the level that it needs to be,” Ige said last July. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. And the timeline, I think, is not realistic, to think that the board can come together and do all the work that the bill requires in that short time frame.”

Apparently, the board’s ex officio members — which include Suzuki, all four county police chiefs, the director of public safety, the director of transportation or the director’s designee, the chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources or the chairperson’s designee, and the director of taxation or the director’s designee — concur with Ige’s assessment.

The report states the board “determined it would be near impossible to implement Act 220, particularly within the short time allotted for implementation and with insufficient funding.”

The board’s proposed revisions to the law include an additional four years to implement the standards and certification process, making the completion date July 1, 2023. The report says the extra time is needed “to ensure that the board’s decisions would not adversely impact or outright conflict with current contractual, collective bargaining, or other legal requirements.”

The board is also seeking an appropriation of $275,000 for fiscal year 2019-2020 to hire a permanent full-time administrator and a permanent full-time clerk, plus administrative and operating costs.

In addition to the ex officio members, the law specifies six additional board members appointed by the governor. Two are to be law enforcement officers with at least 10 years experience in police work, while the remaining four are to be members of the public from each of the four counties, with two of those members being lawyers or experts in criminal or constitutional law. The board is asking that the governor appoint five law enforcement officers instead of two, with one from each of the four counties and another from a state agency.

Cindy McMillan, the governor’s communications director, said Thursday Ige hasn’t yet made any of his public appointments to the board.

Hawaii Police Department Assistant Chief Sam Thomas said the department is “in kind of a holding pattern” regarding Act 220 and its implementation.

“There’s not much for us to do until they come out with what they want to see happen as a board,” Thomas said.

Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. without a statewide board setting standards for training and certification of law enforcement officers.

All four county police departments opposed HB 2071, citing national accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies and describing the establishment of a statewide standards board as an intrusion on counties’ home rule.

“We felt that what we have is sufficient,” Thomas said. “And we felt that if there are things that need to be improved upon, we’d certainly get the heads up from CALEA, because we’re constantly in touch with them. I think the other three counties felt the same way. All four county police departments are accredited.”

The narrative of the new law said the Legislature “finds that the consequences of a lack of statewide oversight of police are a matter of serious public concern.”

“Several recent incidents have highlighted a need for greater oversight,” the narrative states. “For example, a former Honolulu police officer (Vincent Morre) was recently sentenced to prison for using unreasonable force to violate the civil rights of two men. In another incident, a Honolulu police sergeant (Darren Cachola) was caught on video engaged in a violent physical fight with the police sergeant’s girlfriend. In yet another example, the former chief of police of the city and county of Honolulu (Louis Kealoha) faces federal prosecution for alleged criminal violations.”

“If you look at the legislative intent in the bill, it mentioned Chief Kealoha and some of his officers,” Thomas said. “But they allegedly broke the standards that were in place. I don’t think (the board) would change the standards that are already in place, and these individuals were accused of violating those standards.”

The measure that became law wasn’t the first time such legislation was introduced. Former state Sen. Will Espero introduced similar legislation in 2016 after Ethan Ferguson, then a state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officer who was hired after having previously been fired by the Honolulu Police Department for misconduct, was arrested and charged with the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl on a Hilo beach while he was on duty and in uniform.

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Ferguson was later sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted in a jury trial.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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