Lawmakers find disparities in police penalties, target special exemption

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On Monday, KHON2 reported misconduct by officers with the Honolulu Police Department.

In its 2014 annual report to the state legislature, HPD only focused on administrative actions taken against officers who were either suspended or discharged for violating the department’s standards of conduct.

Thirty-nine officers were punished last year for misconduct, with violations ranging from assault and insurance fraud to illegal cockfighting gambling operations.

A closer look reveals that the administrative actions do not appear to be consistent.

The report cited one case where an officer punched his son in the chest with a closed fist, then punched and kicked holes in the wall next to his son’s head. The administrative action in this case: a 10-day suspension.

Then there’s the case of an office caught surfing on the job. The officer was also caught with the surfboard on a city-owned, police-subsidized vehicle. The penalty: a one-day suspension.

That surfing incident caught the eye of Sen. Laura Thielen, D-Kailua, Lanikai, Enchanted Lake, which reminded her of HPD’s investigation into alleged criminal cases of domestic violence involving two officers two years ago.

“The administrative penalty was a one-day suspension,” said Thielen. “what you see in this report is the administrative penalty against an officer for surfing is a one-day suspension.”

With an apparent discrepancy in how punishment is levied, KHON2 approached the police department to ask how HPD determines the penalty for each and every case.

Instead, the department shared its general procedure for how it goes about dealing with misconduct.

First, there is an investigation. Then the findings are forwarded to an administrative review board made up of the deputy and assistant chiefs. The board then forwards its recommendation to the chief, who can either accept the recommendation or determine what, if any, discipline is imposed on the officer.

KHON2 asked Thielen if she was able to determine the outcome of the two domestic violence cases against the officers in 2013.

“No. We can’t find out the outcome of those cases because the special exemption the police have under the law, their names were not released,” said Thielen.

It’s that special exemption that some lawmakers hope to eliminate this year. Thielen and Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa Beach, Ewa by Gentry, Iroquois Point, helped introduce SB497, which would repeal the privacy exemption for county police department officers.

“When it comes to tax dollars and who is working for the public, especially individuals who carry guns and make life-and-death decisions, we need to know who the bad apples are versus those who are not,” said Espero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs.

On Tuesday, KHON2 obtained Hawaii County’s police misconduct report for 2014. It lists 16 officers penalized for 33 violations (some of the officers had multiple violations).

The most serious case involved an officer disciplined for inappropriate physical contact with a minor. That officer was dismissed from the police force.

On Wednesday, Maui and Kauai counties released their reports.

Maui Police Department’s report lists 28 incidents, including submitting false reports, using a department vehicle for personal use, being involved in a major accident involving excessive speeding, and failure to properly investigate a crime and/or submit evidence or reports. Read the full report here.

One of the most serious involved an off-duty officer accused of physically assaulting and injuring a child and failing to cooperate with investigators. That officer was suspended for 14 days and subsequently terminated. The case is pending arbitration.

The Kauai Police Department’s report said there were no incidents in 2014 which resulted in the suspension or discharge of a police officer. The report states one incident that occurred in April 2013 that led to a decision of disciplinary action in 2014, following an internal investigation.

Click here to view Kauai County’s report.

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