Police disciplinary cases down, Legislature told
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
Six Honolulu police officers were fired this year, but the number of officers disciplined for misconduct decreased compared to last year, according to a report submitted to the Legislature.
This year, 56 officers were disciplined for 56 incidents, with six being fired, according to Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue.
Last year, 63 officers were disciplined for 70 incidents; none were fired. The department had 1,977 officers as of Nov. 30, and 1,979 officers last year.
Donohue said some of the misconduct that led to the six firings occurred in previous years and the cases were only finalized this year, spiking the numbers. But Donohue declined to release the names of the fired officers yesterday.
Despite the firings, Donohue said he was pleased with the decrease in police misconduct and credited better police training and community interactions as some reasons.
"We see a downward trend in the number of complaints from the public, and disciplinary action is down," Donohue said. "I'm happy with what I see."
Since 1995, the four county police departments have been required to provide the Legislature annually with lists of disciplinary actions taken against officers. The reports do not name the officers.
The police disclosure began when the Hawai'i Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 15, 1996 that the department should have provided the University of Hawai'i Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists with the names of disciplined police officers when the student group first asked for the names in 1993.
The State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers the police officers' union argued that language in its collective bargaining agreements with the four Hawai'i counties prohibited the release of disciplinary information.
A unanimous decision by the state Supreme Court, however, said public workers' unions cannot reach agreements with the government that interfere with the public's right to know about disciplinary matters.
Firearm used in one offense
This year's HPD offenses ranged from minor, such as failing to submit a police report and using offensive language while conducting a training scenario, to major offenses such as threatening a "significant other" with an issued firearm while intoxicated.
The officers who engaged in the misconduct were suspended from the force without pay anywhere from one to 30 working days.
The report cited eight disciplinary cases against the six officers. Police officials declined to say which of the six officers were involved in more than one case.
They were summarized as:
Officer pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive civil rights.
Officer failed to make a motor-vehicle collision report, then made a false report as to how the vehicle was damaged.
Officer refused to provide a statement regarding involvement in a theft and forgery situation, and also advised a witness not to provide a statement.
Officer pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact to obstruction of justice.
Officer while intoxicated, got into an argument with a "significant other" and threatened that person with an issued firearm.
Officer while intoxicated, got into an argument with a "significant other" and struck that person. On another occasion, while intoxicated, officer pinned a "significant other" against a parked vehicle with a vehicle.
Officer was involved in a motor vehicle collision while off duty, and failed to immediately report the collision. Falsely reported a motor-vehicle theft as well as falsified the motor-vehicle collision report.
Officer pleaded no contest to the offense of false reporting to law-enforcement authorities.
Chief's leadership credited
Donohue said officers have more than 400,000 contacts with the public each year, and from that total, the number of sustained complaints against officers are normally less than 1 percent.
"That's a tribute to our officers," Donohue said. "Policing is a tough job. Our officers are human. We do make mistakes.
"If this were an ideal world, we would not have to take disciplinary action against any of our officers," Donohue said. "The reality is that we are a department that is composed of individuals who face tough situations and tough decisions every day. Every now and then, someone is going to make a bad choice and that is what disciplinary action is for."
Defense attorney Earle Partington who has represented police officers in alleged misconduct cases said the declining misconduct numbers reflect Donohue's positive leadership.
"Chief Donohue cares about getting rid of the bad cops," Partington said. "We've had for too long in this town, the mentality of protecting bad cops no matter how bad they are. The fact that bad cops are getting fired is a step in the right direction.
"If police want more respect from the public they have to be willing to bump the bad cops out of the force and not protect them. I think it's unfortunate that police don't publish more information because the public has a right to know. The more the people know about police discipline, the more confidence they will have in their police force."
Lt. Dennis Kunitake, who is president of SHOPO, echoed Donohue, saying that the "majority of our officers are good officers" and that "no one is perfect."
Offenders are the exception
Alex Garcia, the police union's O'ahu chapter president, said the union educates officers on policies and procedures, and added "major criminal violations (at HPD) are the exception rather than the rule."
Attorney Eric Seitz, who handles police misconduct cases and cases involving use of excessive force, said his cases of police complaints mirror HPD's decline in misconduct discipline.
"My complaints are down, too," Seitz said. "I think that's a good sign."
However, Seitz said he wanted police to improve their handling of situations involving the use of deadly force.
Donohue said complaints may be investigated by the Police Commission, Internal Affairs, Human Resources Division or another HPD division.