The State of Hawai‘i Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), Hawaii’s state police union, has sued to invalidate a new police transparency law. The newly passed law finally puts police officers on a level playing field with all other government employees by making public the names and disciplinary records of police officers who have been suspended or fired for misconduct.
Act 47, which Governor Ige signed into law in September, is an important step for police accountability and for instilling public confidence in our police departments. Police officers are unique among our government officials: they have the state-backed privilege tomonopoly on the use of force and violence. We need information on police misconduct both to hold individual officers accountable and to identify patterns of police misconduct.
But for decades the public has been deprived of this information. That’s because in 1995 SHOPO successfully lobbied for its own special exemption to Hawaii’s open records law. Here’s what that meant: for the past quarter century when a firefighter, tax clerk, prosecutor, IT tech, or social worker committed misconduct that led to their suspension or termination, we had access to their names and disciplinary records. But when police officers committed the very same misconduct, we didn’t.
Act 47 eliminated this special treatment. Finally, police officers are treated like any other public employee: if they commit serious misconduct, their names and disciplinary records are available to the public—full stop. As it should be. After all, police officers should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one.
But having failed at the Legislature, SHOPO is now fighting tooth and nail to keep police misconduct hidden from the public. It is asking judges to rip the law from the books before it’s even been used. In its lawsuit Dkt 1. SHOPO Complaint, SHOPO makes a variety of arguments, but they’re all wrong.
SHOPO invokes its constitutional right to collectively bargain and negotiate contracts with the counties. The right to collective bargaining is important, but it does not include the right to override the public’s right to access government records, as the Civil Beat Law Center persuasively argues in Dkt 14 Motion for Leave to File Amicus Memo. For the police to suggest they can negotiate the ability to hide misconduct and law violations is an insult to all the good that collective bargaining actually does.
SHOPO also invokes its constitutional right to privacy. Privacy rights are critical, but disclosure of police misconduct is very far from the type of invasion of privacy of private individuals that the constitution is meant to protect.
The ACLU of Hawaiʻi will be following SHOPO’s lawsuits closely, because for the last 25 years police officers have been above the law. This law finally fixes that. It must remain.
What You Can Do
Police are supposed to “protect and serve” the community, but that’s a far cry from what modern-day policing often looks like in our country. The recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd and others -- and the concerning reports of HPD engaging in misconduct in our communities highlight the need for drastic systemic change, yet again.
ACLU Hawai`i is committed to advocating and litigating for that change. Following the lead of the Movement for Black Lives, we are calling for a new vision of policing -- one where police have a smaller footprint and presence in our lives.
This is why we need your help. ACLU supporters like you are making a critical difference in holding police accountable and bringing others into the movement for Black Lives. Can you keep up this momentum and court watch this Friday at 8:30am?
On Friday, we need volunteers to:
- Click on this link at 8:30am on Friday, November 27. Remember to mute your mic and watch the virtual court hearing. Be part of a digital convoy to the courtroom.
- Record your findings here: https://secure.everyaction.com/PzqrIuWnQ0Wg5MKejOxTpg2
- Tweet and post about your thoughts about the hearing using the hashtag #aclucopwatch
After filing its lawsuit against the City and County of Honolulu earlier this month, on November 20, SHOPO privately filed an emergency motion with a judge in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (which covers the City) asking the judge to enter a temporary restraining order that would prevent the City from disclosing, under the Hawaiʻi open records law, arbitration decisions relating to police officers who have been suspended or fired for misconduct.
A few hours after that motion was filed, Circuit Court Judge Dean Ochiai entered a temporary restraining order without providing any explanation or reasoning.
Judge Ochiai then set a fuller hearing for this Friday, November 27 at 8:30 a.m., right after Thanksgiving. Friday’s hearing is for a preliminary injunction motion, which, if granted, will limit the public’s ability to access police disciplinary records for a longer duration.
Friday’s hearing is the first time that Judge Ochiai will be grappling publicly with the issues presented by SHOPO’s lawsuit. It is important that members of the public attend the hearing so that the Circuit Court recognizes that the public is scrutinizing its decision making process—and to show that we demand police transparency and accountability.