Posted on: Sunday, May 18, 2008

HPD won't release names of arrested drivers

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The Honolulu Police Department has refused to disclose names of O'ahu drivers arrested in past pedestrian-fatality cases, saying state law prevents it from doing so. But The Advertiser easily obtained the same type of information from two Neighbor Island police departments, raising the question of why HPD is applying the law differently.

The Office of Information Practices, the agency that determines whether county and state records are public, has not addressed this specific issue.

But it ruled previously that arrestee names on a police blotter are public and cannot be redacted, even if the people are released without being charged.

Honolulu police recently denied an Advertiser request for the names of all arrested drivers and the charges they faced in pedestrian-fatality cases on O'ahu from 2003 through 2007. The newspaper was willing to pay the $200 tab to cover the research time HPD estimated was required to compile the information.

The Advertiser sought the data as part of an effort to evaluate what happens to drivers involved in fatal crashes. That is an important issue in a state that consistently has been one of the most dangerous in the country for pedestrians, especially elderly ones.

HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the names could not be provided because to compile a list, the agency would have to access accident reports that by state law are confidential. The newspaper wasn't seeking the reports themselves.

The Advertiser obtained names of drivers from Kaua'i and Big Island police, while Maui police provided biographic information but not names. HPD wouldn't even say which individual cases resulted in arrests.

The agency did provide annual totals on how many pedestrian-fatality cases overall were closed without referring them to the prosecutor's office, how many were referred to that office but not charged and how many were referred and charged.

The Advertiser has filed an appeal of the denial to the OIP. That appeal is pending.

OIP previously ruled that police blotter information concerning adult offenders is public. In a 2007 case in which Kaua'i police asked whether they could redact names of people arrested but not charged from a daily arrest log, the OIP determined that Hawai'i's open-records law does not permit agencies to withhold names of arrestees.

HPD said The Advertiser could search the agency's arrest logs for the information requested. But because arrests in fatality cases can happen days, weeks or months after the accidents and because the logs don't link the arrestee names to the original incidents, the logs would be of little or no use.

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