Body cameras coming for Big Island police

  • Courtesy of AXON ENTERPRISE INC. A model wears an Axon body camera.

The Hawaii Police Department will become the last police department in the state to equip its officers with body cameras following a unanimous County Council vote Wednesday to spend $1.8 million to purchase 340 video cameras.

The department is shooting for an August or September timeline for outfitting officers, but that could depend on whether the cameras can be manufactured and trainers provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The timing couldn’t be more poignant, several council members noted. Recent high-profile police killings in Minneapolis and Atlanta put the nation on edge and calls for police reform are sweeping the mainland.

“There are a lot of community concerns stemming from what is happening on the mainland and what’s happening in our community,” said Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder. “I can see where that will be cumbersome for the police department to implement but I really feel it builds accountability on both sides. … I think this is needed.”

Hawaii County was the first to test body cameras in 2013, even if it is the last to wear them. The Kauai Police Department was the first to implement a body-worn camera program in 2015 followed by the Maui Police Department in 2017. The Honolulu Police Department started outfitting its officers last year.

In 2019, the Kauai Police Department received 21 complaints against officers. Fifteen of those officers had activated, body-worn cameras. Of those, 13 were cleared using camera footage alone, according to a June 7 report in The Garden Island newspaper.

Sgt. Travis Ing, who began overseeing the transition to body cameras at the Big Island police department in September, agreed with Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder’s assessment.

“I do agree it is needed,” Ing said. “It’s an objective record of police interaction with the public.”

The contract with Axon Enterprise Inc. includes five years of cloud storage and maintenance of the massive amounts of data collected daily. Ing said the department hasn’t made the transition as quickly as planned because it’s had trouble filling three information technology positions. The employees are needed for management, storage and retrieval of digital data.

Ing said only one of the positions has been filled.

“It seems like for our IT positions, the pay is not in line with what people of that caliber would require,” he said.

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Police departments moved forward with the body-worn cameras after the Hawaii Labor Relations Board ruled in 2016 against the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers in a case involving the Kauai Police Department, finding the union has no say on the policy and it is not subject to negotiation. A circuit judge confirmed that ruling.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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