Honolulu gives commission more power to fire police chief

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HONOLULU — The commission overseeing the Honolulu Police Department has been given more power to fire or suspend the police chief after voters overwhelmingly passed a city charter amendment calling for more civilian oversight.

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HONOLULU — The commission overseeing the Honolulu Police Department has been given more power to fire or suspend the police chief after voters overwhelmingly passed a city charter amendment calling for more civilian oversight.

The decision also will give the Honolulu Police Commission the authority to subpoena witnesses and evidence as it conducts investigations.

Before the charter amendment passed Tuesday, the commission could only remove the chief for continuous problems after giving the chief time to correct the issues.

The decision came as a grand jury began looking into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption by the department that emerged from a theft case involving the police chief’s mailbox, according to a federal public defender.

“I would like to begin an evaluation of the chief of police as soon as possible, and I’d like to use the newly acquired subpoena power to assist in that evaluation,” said Loretta Sheehan, a commissioner. Sheehan said she was speaking as an individual, not on behalf of the commission.

“The public clearly wants the police commission to act as an active oversight body, and I think that the public perception is that we haven’t been doing that,” Sheehan added.

The Honolulu Police Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Police Commission Chairman Ron Taketa also didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The department also came under scrutiny this year when Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha sought to promote a major who had been arrested in 1994 for domestic violence. The major later declined the promotion.

“They get a pass on way too many items here,” said Al Coleman, 57, an IT professional who lives in Waikiki and voted yes on the proposal. “I always thought that the police commission here was hamstrung, for lack of a better word.”

The amendment will go into effect immediately after the elections office certifies the results, according to the Honolulu Charter Commission.

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Sen. State Sen. Will Espero, who lobbied for the amendment and who has been pushing for more police oversight for years, said there has been a high degree of officers that have had charges brought against them, and in some cases individuals pleading guilty and being convicted.

“That shows a breakdown somewhere in the system, and leadership is accountable for those actions of its officers,” Espero said.

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