Hawaii lawmakers considering police reforms

A proposed bill that could further police reform efforts in Hawaii cleared two committees despite mixed feelings from some of the state's law enforcement organizations.

Senate Bill 151 would require police departments and law enforcement agencies across Hawaii to develop policies, procedures and training that outline proper de-escalation and crisis intervention tactics and how to handle reports of excessive force.

The bill, drafted by Sen. Stanley Chang D-Honolulu, would also require departments to create specific guidelines for when police officers should or should not draw their firearms during the line of duty.

Law enforcement officers who witness excessive force being used by another police officer would also be required under the proposed legislation to report the incident to their department head, which would be obligated to investigate the incident and report findings within 15 days to the chief of police.

Kauai Police Department Todd Raybuck said the agency already has policies and procedures in place now to protect not only police officers but the public as well.

"The Kauai Police Department is committed to ensuring that force used by officers in the performance of duties is proper, lawful, and necessary," Raybuck said in his written testimony. "The Department’s use of force policies and practices are also in accordance and compliance with accreditation standards set by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and federal mandates for law enforcement organizations that receive federal grant funding."

Other law enforcement agencies testified against the bill. Robert Cavaco, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, said the bill would perpetuate scrutiny of law enforcement officers and departments already struggling with hiring shortages.

"Standards on the use of force have already been established over the many years by each respective county in conjunction with their human resources departments," Cavaco said in written testimony. "Thus, the substance of SB 151 SD1 is already in place within the county’s departments, which need not be disturbed or interfered with by the legislature."

Manuel Hernandez, captain of the Honolulu Police Department's training division, said he supported the bill's sections concerning policies and procedures. But the 15-day timeframe to complete investigations was insufficient in certain situations.

"Administrative investigations into any use of force incident may be complex, and this timeline is not feasible for a thorough investigation to be completed," Hernandez said.

Hawaii Attorney General Ann Lopez said in a written statement that requiring an officer to report any suspected excessive use of force they see in writing could be burdensome.

"The Department believes this would generate an exponential amount of unnecessary scrutiny," Lopez said in her letter. "Instead, the proposed requirement should be invoked only in cases where the officer sees "force that the law enforcement officer believes to be beyond that which is necessary, as determined by an objectively reasonable officer under the circumstances, based upon the totality of information actually known to the law enforcement officer."

The bill passed the Judiciary and Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee and would next be considered by the full Senate.

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