Lawmaker wants police commission to have disciplinary powers

Honolulu Police Commission

The Honolulu Police Commission, which investigates claims of police misconduct, has little say in what happens to an officer once it’s done.

Sen. Will Espero, D, Senate vice president, told KHON2 Thursday that needs to change.

Right now, the commission can investigate charges of misconduct brought by the public. A letter is sent to the police chief with its findings.

But who should have the final say on whether an officer is disciplined?

The police commission is made of civilians. Espero says their authority to review any misconduct by officers helps keep the department in check.

He points to an incident when police officers beat up two men who were mistaken as suspects. The commission recommended that the officers be punished but were not.

“What this shows is a poor, poor oversight of our police department by civilians and in this case the officers were not penalized or punished at all,” Espero said.

Espero says this is not the way it should work and wants the police commission to have the final say on punishment for police officers.

“That would be like the judge makes a decision and then someone else says, ‘Oh no, you’re wrong,'” he said.

Espero tried to pass a bill that would give the police commission more oversight last year and it stalled. He says he’ll try again next session, but just in case, he’s asking the Charter Commission to put it on the ballot in next year’s election.

Tenari Maafala, president of SHOPO, the police officers’ union, says it sends the wrong message.

“You’re basically telling me you don’t trust the department. You don’t trust the chief based on actions of officers, and I’ve said it all along, and I can speak for the chief on this behalf, we do not condone criminality period,” Maafala said.

Maafala says this is just a knee-jerk reaction and the system is working fine the way it is. He says the internal investigations by the police department are based on facts and are done by officers who know what they have to face.

“It’s not good because the commission is not there every day,” Maafala said. “They’re not literally in the shoe of the chief of police. They’re not the heartbeat of the officers on the street so they don’t really know.”

The Charter Commission is considering more than 150 proposals, and will have a better idea on whether this one will move forward next week.

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