Police body camera bill passes

KAILUA-KONA — They’re not done deals yet, but several Hawaii related bills are advancing.

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KAILUA-KONA — They’re not done deals yet, but several Hawaii related bills are advancing.

That means Kona’s airport could have a new name, officers could start wearing body cameras and moped riders, well, they won’t be required to wear helmets after all.

Lawmakers have passed a bill requiring police officers to wear body cameras. However, as the measure heads through conference committees to reconcile different versions of the measure, it is not yet clear how much funding it will receive.

Like a lot of bills that have a significant cost attached, death is always possible when the finance committees hash out what receives funding and what simply dies for lack of money, said District 4 Senator Lorraine Inouye, a co-sponsor of the bill.

“I don’t know if it will survive,” said Inouye.

Senate Bill 2411 tasks the state Attorney General with distributing funds to the counties for body and vehicle dashboard cameras, with the caveat that counties cover half the bill. The measure would require a $1.35 million state appropriation, according to a report by the Senate committees on judiciary and labor and ways and means.

It would cost $250,000 to outfit Hawaii County police officers with the cameras, according to the report.

The recording devices — increasingly under use across the mainland — act as an objective third observer, increasing transparency and accountability for both law enforcement and the public, according to the bill’s proponents. They say the provisions could reduce complaints against officers and help to more quickly resolves disputes involving officer conduct.

The bill has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

“They just need to decide whether they will keep appropriations in the bill and, if so, how much money will be appropriated,” said Mandy Finlay, advocacy coordinator for the ACLU, in an email. “The policies contained in this bill have already cleared both chambers and we believe them to be some of the best in the country.”

The cameras would be activated whenever an officer responds to a call or begins any law enforcement or investigation. Subjects would have to be notified the lens were in use, and the cameras could not be used for purposes unrelated to a call for service or a law enforcement or investigative encounter with the public, according to the bill.

In written testimony, Hawaii County Police Chief Harry Kubojiri supported the concept of body cameras but said the financial burden would likely force the department to delay implementation. Numerous public requests for video — which would have to be copied and redacted to protect privacy — would burden the department, Kubojiri wrote. The state Office of Information Practices testified to a similar expected burden and the likely need for more staffing.

The measure should be fully funded if implemented, Kubojiri said.

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers opposed the bill, in part because the line between law enforcement and non-law enforcement activity can be a gray area, and also on the grounds that county departments are best fit to set their own body camera use policies and training procedures.

That opposition and four “no” votes during third reading mean the bill’s fate is anyone’s guess at this point.

In an unrelated bill, Inouye’s attempt to require helmets, shoes and protective jackets on all moped riders was jettisoned. Members of her own Committee on Transportation and Energy opposed the provision, worrying it would open the door for a battle over motorcycle helmets, Inouye said.

Inouye felt strongly that vulnerable moped riders — often young and many of them booking down the road’s edge in slippers and tank tops — should be better protected.

“I tried,” she said.

Similar provisions from the House side that did survive require registration, license plates and safety inspections for mopeds statewide. The annual registration fee is set at $50. House Bill 1753 is likely to survive the session. Hawaii Count already has its own registration and safety inspections program.

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The bill was heavily supported by Oahu neighborhood groups who say the lack of identifying information on mopeds make them a favored vehicle during home burglaries, Inouye said.

Also passing both chambers and now in conference is a bill to rename Kona International Airport. House Bill 1736, would rename the facility the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, after Kona’s own astronaut who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. The bill was sponsored by Kona Rep. Nicole Lowen and co-sponsored by Kohala Rep. Cindy Evans and Naalehu Rep. Richard Creagan.

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