So last week my email inbox at work brightened with a surprising message from the Maui Police Department. They sent me–and the rest of Maui’s media–a copy of their 2014 accounting of official police misconduct.
The report, addressed to the Legislative Reference Bureau, is a summary of “all incidents and violations of Department Policies and Procedures which resulted in the suspension or discharge of Police Officers during the period from January 1, 2014 to December 21, 2014.” It’s a state-mandated annual report that all Hawaii police departments need to file with the Legislature. Like all such reports, it lacks names and identifying details concerning the incidents and officers involved.
Many of these incidents have already been disclosed at Maui Police Commission hearings, which were then reported by The Maui News. But this is the first time that I know of that the annual report has been sent directly to the media.
As is usually the case when communicating with the Maui Police Department, asking them why they decided to release this report to the media this year–an action they haven’t taken in previous years–led nowhere. Here’s the brief email exchange I had with Lt. William Juan, the Maui PD’s spokesman last week:
ME: “I was wondering what prompted the department to release this summary to the media? I don’t recall similar reports in previous years.”
LT. WILLIAM JUAN: “This report is open to the public via www.capitol.hawaii.gov website. Each County Police Department submits this report annually. Our department decided send this out via a press release.”
Serves me right for asking such a direct question. But I could also find no sign of the report at the link Juan cites above. In any case, the report has all sorts of fun reading for the taxpayers who fund the Maui PD. Here are a few of the most recent incidents, involving disciplinary actions in November and December of 2014:
• “Unauthorized use of Department’s Confidential Funds” [Suspended one day and reassigned]
• “Failed to appear for Court after after [sic] receiving a subpoena” [Suspended one day]
• “Involved in a major auto accident involving excessive speeding” [Suspended five days]
• “Failed to conduct a proper investigation and process evidence and submitted a false report” [Suspended 10 days]
• “While off-duty, operated a vehicle under the influence and with a minor as a passenger” [Suspended 15 days]
That last one also led to two other cops getting busted–one for failing “to conduct a proper investigation” and one for failing “to supervise the proper investigation.” The department also suspended those cops for three and five days, respectively.
Seriously, does any of this seem just and proper? Failing to appear in court after getting a subpoena, using someone’s funds in an “unauthorized” manner and driving under the influence are called “crimes.” Civilians can get jail time for committing them, but when you’re a cop, a simple suspension of a few days seems to be the order of the day. What’s more, the report contains no information as to who the officers were who committed these acts or where they’re currently assigned.
Look it’s great the Maui PD decided to release this report to the media, but as we’ve reported for the last four years, the Hawaii public records law sucks when it comes to police officers. It would be nice if the state Legislature did something meaningful about it this session, but that’s unlikely. Last year, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed Act 121, which “requires additional information from county police departments in their annual report to the Legislature of misconduct incidents that resulted in the suspension or discharge of an officer,” but still falls short of releasing the cops’ names.
Of course, if people disagree with this they can always take it up with the Maui Police Commission, though there isn’t a lot that panel can do about it. Because of the popularity of last month’s meeting, the Commission will meet again at UH Maui College this month. The next meeting takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 9:30am in the Multi-Purpose Room in the college’s Pilina Building, on the second floor above the Campus Book Store.
Photo: Kszapsza/Wikimedia Commons