Tracking truth, transparency promises at HPD

**Update on April 29, 2015: The Honolulu Police Department has followed through on its promise to post its policies online. View them here.**

Last fall, Always Investigating told you about the high price of transparency as we looked for more details from police about the case involving an officer caught on surveillance video hitting a woman.

It’s a case that didn’t result in charges for Sgt. Darren Cachola as a grand jury determined, and the woman involved said they were playing around.

But seventh months later, police tell Always Investigating that an internal investigation is still ongoing. So they can’t say if there will be any punishment for Cachola or the other officers who were called to the scene that night and didn’t make a report.

Cachola is the only one who’s been reassigned and is on restricted duty.

Because it’s a personnel matter, Always Investigating is still finding black holes instead of transparency.

We wanted to know how the department approached the Cachola case internally, and since city emails are public record, we asked for about a month’s worth of HPD communications on the issue from the date of the video.

At first we were quoted nearly $50,000, then $80,000 to get them. We whittled down our request to just the chief and a few key supervisors and were told that could be hundreds of dollars. That was last fall.

Finally this spring, HPD said they’d underestimated. It would actually cost five times that, or $2,000 for 18 emails, 27 total pages.

Officials said it would be just about a total blackout on every page once they were done redacting, because the release wouldn’t include any information that’s part of what they call a deliberative process about possible courses of action. We did not opt to buy the stack of black.

“The amount is troubling. The fact that it’s all redacted is troubling. It’s not the best form of transparency,” said Brian Black, Civil Beat Law Center, an attorney who is used to seeing agencies dodge public record disclosures by using high price tags.

The chief didn’t want to talk to us on camera but did provide a written statement saying that the department complies with all disclosure laws while balancing privacy, protecting sensitive information, and their goal of being more transparent.

“They’re not required to withhold, they’re only allowed to withhold. So if the chief decided that he wanted to be more transparent and release it there is nothing that would bar it simply because it was part of a deliberative process,” Black said. “There may be some aspects of that but that would lead to much more reduced redactions than redacting the entire thing.”

The chief promised lawmakers and the community more openness after that video surfaced, especially about domestic violence.

Sen. Laura Thielen was among many who took the department to task last fall after the video, expecting among other things that HPD would soon make its policies public.

“I’d have to say it’s been very disappointing,” she said.

Right now the most the public learns about police discipline is in short, nameless blurbs on annual disciplinary reports. A bill to require more information from police misconduct records didn’t go anywhere this session, nor did a bill that would force HPD to change its policy that a complaint against a police officer for domestic violence must be in writing and notarized.

In his written statement, the chief did promise that HPD will be posting all department policies online next month. We checked on Wednesday, April 29, and they were all online, everything from electric gun use to domestic violence.

There have been no changes to their domestic violence policies but they have increased training from two to 10 hours for recruits and four hours for current officers every year. Previously, officers did not get annual domestic violence training.

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