HONOLULU (KHON2) — Three recent police shootings on Oahu highlight the importance of body-worn cameras.
Plainclothes officers are not equipped with them, as the public learned from the Kalihi shooting.
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The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) says it plans to eventually provide cameras for plainclothes officers. Experts say it will not be that simple.
The union for police officers, SHOPO, says part of the problem is that plainclothes officers need to be able to blend in, so they will need body cameras that allow them to do that.
The officers involved in the shooting on Tuesday, May 25, were part of the Crime Reduction Unit and were there to serve two felony bench warrants to Dion Kitzmiller. HPD says he showed them a firearm, drove off and hit several cars before turning the gun towards approaching officers.
One of the officers shot Kitzmiller multiple times. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition.
SHOPO says it would be difficult for plainclothes officers to wear a bodycam and not stand out in many cases.
“On a daily basis, it will be hard, like I said. I don’t think technology has caught up with any type of plainclothes unit that can work with a camera daily,” said SHOPO president Malcolm Lutu.
Lutu adds that the union is open to bodycams for more officers. He was a plainclothes officer for 25 years and says it would not be practical if they have to take it on and off for certain assignments.
“For me, it will be an officer safety issue. If they have time, of course cameras could help. But if they don’t have time, it’s just the nature of the job. Sometimes they don’t have time to don the cameras,” said Lutu.
There are witness videos of the moments after the shooting that show officers struggling with the suspect as they yelled for him to show his hands. Another video shows officers attending to Kitzmiller and providing aid before paramedics arrived.
It is not clear how long it will be before HPD plans to roll out bodycams for plainclothes officers. With transparency a major issue with police departments across the country, some say getting more officers equipped with them is a good thing.
“Body worn cameras are able to provide a more transparent look into what actually happened and it can be a very very useful tool. Not just for getting officers in trouble if they were doing something, but it’s also a great way to get officers out of trouble,” said Honolulu Police Commissioner Doug Chin.