HONOLULU (KHON2) — Body camera footage is missing from hundreds of Honolulu police interactions, Always Investigating has found, and now police commission and union officials are calling for more technology to patch the gaps.
It’s a problem that came up again when the finalists for chief were down to the last steps. Body camera footage is a frequent violation on annual discipline reports. We wanted to know how to fix it.
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Among the problems revealed at an open forum last month with the last candidates standing for the top job? Body camera footage missing from sometimes crucial cases. Always Investigating asked for exact details from HPD right away and got the answers a couple of weeks later.
We’re told there have been 225 “sustained violations” of the department’s body-worn camera (BWC) policy since 2018.
HPD said “The majority of violations were for failing to activate the camera, activating the camera too late, or deactivating the camera prematurely.”
“That number is quite alarming and 200,” said Shannon Alivado, chair of the Honolulu Police commission. “Even 100 would probably be too many. If we do as a commission see that the BWC was authorized for use but was not used, we bring it to the attention of the chief to just say, ‘Hey, you know, this appears to be a BWC violation. Could you look into it?’”
She said the problem could actually be much worse than the data show.
“Two hundred sustained are only the ones that have come to the surface, to the public’s attention where they’re bold enough to come forward and say, ‘Hey, I think there was something that was wrong with this officer’s behavior’ and perhaps maybe the BWC coverage just came up as a side issue, which we have seen as well,” Alivado said.
The head of the police officer union said cameras being caught as being off a couple hundred times over four years is miniscule out of what he estimates to be 1 million annual contacts with law enforcement.
“So that’s around 83,000 videos that we should have on file per month, if you average it out,” said SHOPO President Robert Cavaco. “But if the department has seen, since 2018, there’s only 225 sustained violations, that’s actually a pretty darn good job if you ask me.”
Cameras are allowed to be off with things like some juvenile cases, sex assault victims, or upon request of a victim. Cavaco said when it’s supposed to be on but isn’t, it can be an honest mistake, from officers multitasking or prioritizing other safety, emergency or life-and-death calls ahead of tapping the “on” switch.
HPDs annual disciplinary report reveals cases where multiple officers deactivated or never started a BWC on a domestic dispute call involving HPD personnel, also failing to activate it and lying about it or leaving that key point out of reports. HPD explained “Sustained (violations) means there is sufficient evidence of misconduct to support the allegation or to justify disciplinary action. It is unrelated to whether it was a first-time or repeat offense.”
HPD said, “First-time violators are generally counseled on the body-worn camera policy and warned that repeat violations may result in progressive disciplinary action.”
Alivado wants more tracking and transparency and says the commission is awaiting results of departmental BWC audits.
“That’s something that commission has already asked about, and has been asking the department how they’re actually checking on these potential violations that we don’t know about,” Alivado said.
HPD told Always Investigating: “HPD does not check body camera videos for all interactions, incidents and cases.”
Both the commission and the union say auto-record technology is available, and many other jurisdictions use it.
“As soon as the car is goes over a certain speed, like 80 miles, 90 miles an hour, the camera automatically turns on,” Cavaco said. “They turn on their Taser, the Bluetooth technology the camera turns on. They even have it where you activate your the blue lights on your vehicle, the camera turns on. You open the car door, the camera turns on.”
Cavaco said most officers want the protection cameras can give them.
“They file frivolous complaints or lawsuits or whatnot, and the body cameras actually there to protect the officer,” Cavaco said.
Alivado said cameras validate when officer do the right things, and help the public better understand tough calls.
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“Just recently, the one in Ala Moana, I believe the assailant had some type of weapon where, unfortunately, officers had to use force to take that person down,” Alivado said. “And I think once the video coverage did come out, it showed in fact that the officer tried all he could to ask the assailant to stop.”