Ige, Police Chiefs Deserve Our Support With New Police Board

Gov. David Ige showed this week he has the best interest of the public at heart when he changed his mind and decided not to veto the new police standards board after all.

Under House Bill 2071, which Ige let become law without his signature, the 14-member board will have until this time next year to put in place minimum standards for all law enforcement officers in Hawaii — both county and state — and to establish a process for certification of the officers.

Although the Legislature had unanimously approved the new oversight board, the governor and the chiefs of the four county police departments had serious concerns about the bill as written and the ability to implement it in just a year with little money.

Governor David Ige during veto press conference held at the Capitol.


Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Lawmakers set aside a laughable $100,000 to pay for setting up the board.

The governor put HB 2071 on his intent-to-veto list a couple weeks ago, sparking a public outcry and even a threat by legislative leaders to call a special session to override vetoes.

We were among those who urged the governor not to veto this bill. Hawaii has for decades been the only state without a statewide standards board and certification program. A similar measure has been introduced and rejected by Hawaii lawmakers for at least five years and this year it finally passed legislative muster.

To their credit, Ige and the four chiefs swiftly revisited the issue when people began to raise concerns about a potential veto.

It can be tough to publicly reverse course on a major policy issue, particularly in the middle of a close election. But Ige should be applauded for being willing to listen and then trying to find a better path forward.

“My primary reason for letting it become law is that I do recognize that our community deserves to have the highest quality law enforcement and that the statewide board is intended to help achieve that,” Ige told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

He appears to have made that decision with the full support of all four county police chiefs who are understandably wondering how this will rock their world. The county agencies already have long-established standards and training programs. It’s the state law enforcement agencies — like the Department of Land and Natural Resources or state harbors division — that don’t. The notion of an outside agency with the ability to certify and revoke an officer’s license is totally new to Hawaii.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, who has been deeply involved in this issue including conversations with the governor’s office and the other chiefs, told Civil Beat on Tuesday: “If this is what the community wants to feel that their police departments are doing what needs to be done, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

On Wednesday she outlined some of her concerns to the Civil Beat Editorial Board, including whether the process to decertify or revoke a police officer’s license would be in conflict with the collective bargaining agreement and which one would prevail.

HPD Chief of Police Susan Ballard Police Commission meeting.


Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The legislation also speaks vaguely about things like charging fees for certification, and setting up training facilities statewide and even requiring the chiefs themselves to be members of the board. Ballard’s concerns over the logistics — especially the lack of money behind it — are completely understandable.

Her biggest concern is that a certification board will do little to stop police misconduct or prevent the kind of corruption that led to the forced retirement of her predecessor, Louis Kealoha, now facing federal charges along with his deputy prosecutor wife and four of his officers. A fifth has already pleaded guilty.

But it’s against that backdrop along with a couple of other high-profile police misconduct cases that the Legislature was finally moved to put in place the kind of police reform that has been needed for many years.

HB 2071 may not be a perfect bill, but the public and the Legislature should be happy to take this bird in the hand and provide the support that law enforcement officials will need to make it work.

For one thing, it’s crazy to think this program can be pulled together for $100,000. The attorney general’s office is expected to take the lead on implementation and it would seem a good consultant could go a long way toward helping craft minimum standards. Those standards are already largely established and there doesn’t seem to be a need to reinvent that particular wheel, but extending it to the state agencies will take some planning.

The certification process is the most important element, and clearly establishing how this will take priority over union contracts is important to get right from the beginning. The statewide police union is not shy about taking challenges to its authority to court.

Fortunately, 49 other states have figured this out and Hawaii should be able to learn from those that also have strong unions.

The logistics are considerable and the police chiefs should be commended for being willing to take this on because it is a very big change. It’s likely they will need to go back to the Legislature next year for some tweaks to the bill, and lawmakers should give them better support.

Is it realistic to have this put together in a year? Maybe not, and that’s certainly something to consider a year from now.

But the board is a step in the direction Hawaii has needed to go for a very long time. It’s time to get started on that journey.