Yeah, we can’t believe it either: Senate Bill 497 “Repeals the privacy exemption within the Uniform Information Practices Act [UIPA] for county police department officers,” according to the bill text. It was introduced on Jan. 23 by small handful of state Senators, including Maui’s own Roz Baker, D–South Maui.
Myriad organizations have already submitted testimony in favor of the bill, mostly to say that the bill would provide vital accountability to the public. Here’s a sampling (click here for the complete batch of testimony):
• HAWAII STATE COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN: “Two national studies have found domestic violence occurs more frequently in families with a police officer. However, victims are often silenced and afraid to come forward for fear they will not be believed. In domestic violence cases involving police officers, public disclosure and transparency of those misconduct and disciplinary records are needed to ensure public trust and safety. Further, repealing this exemption is consistent with our state constitution and is consistent with how all other government employees are treated under UIPA.”
• LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS: “UIPA should apply exactly the same way to county police officers who have been suspended for misconduct as to other public employees who have been suspended for misconduct. There is no compelling public benefit from keeping secret the name of any public employee who has been suspended for misconduct.”
• DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACTION CENTER: “As public servants charged with the critical and life altering role of responding to domestic violence in our community’s homes, it is essential that our law enforcement officers are accountable to those they serve in their professional capacity.”
• SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS, HAWAII CHAPTER: “We have long maintained that the names of suspended police officers should be released. One way to tell if police commissions and police chiefs are doing the the correct job of disciplining officers is to know who was disciplined. Serious violations are seemingly met with minor suspensions, and it would be helpful to know who the suspended officers are. Also this would shine the light brighter on repeat offenders.”
So far, just one organization has opposed it–the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), the all-powerful police union that not only succeeded in getting the special exemption passed by the Legislature back in 1996, but has lobbied hard to defeat repeal and reform measures ever since.
“Finally, release of officers’ names that have been suspended may have a chilling effect on the extent of action taken by officers who often have to make split second decisions,” SHOPO President Tenari Maafala said in his Feb. 5 written testimony on the bill to the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental & Military Affairs. “It impacts not only the officers but their families, too. Though other employees are subject to release of their names for suspensions, rarely, if ever, does that happen because of the level of news worthiness.”
Given SHOPO’s past success in getting meaningful reforms like this squashed, we’re holding our breath.
Click here for our most recent story on Maui Police misconduct reporting.
Click here for Honolulu Civil Beat’s Feb. 10 story on the bill, and a few other important law enforcement reform bills.
Photo: legoalbert/Wikimedia Commons