Change in opinion: HPD to comply with Act 47, ID officers fired, suspended for misconduct

  • Police Chief Paul Ferreira. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

A day after stating the Hawaii Police Department would not submit until court-ordered the names of officers suspended or fired for misconduct, pursuant to a law that went into effect last fall, the county changed its stance.

Police Chief Paul Ferreira on Wednesday told West Hawaii Today the department was advised by county Office of the Corporation Counsel not to include names of officers in the misconduct report filed for 2020.

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“If ordered by the courts or if the opinion from our Office of the Corporation Counsel changes, we are prepared to identify the officers listed on the misconduct report,” he said.

By Thursday, however, the opinion from the Office of the Corporation Counsel had changed; and the department was preparing to resubmit the report, originally submitted Jan. 4 and amended Jan. 20, including the names of the officers whose grievance procedures have concluded in accordance with Act 47.

“After receiving your inquiry yesterday, again reached out to our Office of Corporation Counsel and now the decision is to submit an amended report to the Legislature with the identity of officers included, which will be done this week,” Ferreira said via email Thursday.

Act 47, which became law without Gov. David Ige’s signature on Sept. 15, requires Hawaii’s four county police chiefs to disclose in annual reports to the state Legislature by Jan. 31 the identity of an officer upon an officer’s suspension or discharge from a department once the grievance procedure has concluded. The names can also be released retroactively upon request.

The law requiring the report to the Legislature, which is publicly accessible, has been on the books since 1995; its scope disclosing more details was expanded in 2014. The further expansion to include names was passed by the 2020 Legislature, after a measure that died quietly in conference in 2019 was rekindled last session.

In November, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) union filed civil suit against all four counties, seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional. The union opposes the changes, saying the law violates the privacy rights of officers and the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the counties.

No filings have occurred in the three outer-island cases since amended complaints were filed by SHOPO in December. However, there has been action in SHOPO’s case against the City and County of Honolulu challenging the disclosure of police disciplinary records from 1996 to 2020 sought by Honolulu Civil Beat, and disclosing the identity of officers suspended or discharged in the report to the Legislature.

An Oahu judge on Nov. 27 dissolved a temporary restraining order granted to SHOPO, and denied part of a Nov. 23 motion for preliminary injunction pertaining to the disclosure of City and County of Honolulu police disciplinary records. Further hearing is set for March 3 on disclosure requirements for the legislative report.

Hawaii County Corporation Counsel D. Kaena Horowitz said Thursday morning that the county initially opted to withhold the names from the report submitted to the Legislature due to the pending litigation and to wait for “guidance from the courts.”

“We weren’t certain, so we erred on the side of caution to withhold. But now it appears like the other counties may be producing the names, it looks like we will go ahead and do the same,” Horowitz said.

Honolulu Attorney Jeffrey Portnoy, who has represented West Hawaii Today, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and other media outlets across the state and is an expert on public records laws, called Hawaii County’s opting to release the report as required by law “good.”

“It’s something that should be done and the constant challenge to the statute requiring disclosure, it’s time for it to stop and it’s time for the police departments to comply with the law,” he said. “It’s that simple, and I’m glad they are doing it, hopefully, finally.”

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Neither the Office of the County Attorney for Kauai nor the Department of Corporation Counsel for Maui County responded to requests for comment on their county’s police misconduct report submission status. The City and County of Honolulu referred calls to a media line, which not respond for an update on the First Circuit case and whether Hawaii’s lone metropolitan police force would render the names.

SHOPO President Malcolm Lutu was also unable to be reached for comment on the matter.

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