HPD rolling out final body-worn cameras which have already been misused

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Feb. 24—After about 2-1 /2 years the Honolulu Police Department is finishing rolling out the last of its body-worn cameras to police officers—and officers already have been misusing them.

and has been slowly outfitting all eight HPD patrol districts and enforcement personnel in the department's Traffic Division.

At a Honolulu Police Commission meeting Feb. 17, while reporting on the progress of Police Chief Susan Ballard's five-year plan for the Police Department, HPD projected it will finish outfitting officers with the cameras by the end of March.

"I believe that they are already shipped, so it's a matter of logistics for us to administer, train and have them all available for those remaining units, " HPD Deputy Chief Aaron Takasaki-Young told the commission.

The purpose of the rollout was for HPD to join other cities across the country whose officers already use body-worn cameras for greater transparency.

HPD reported a 78 % deployment rate of the body cameras during the commission meeting. Takasaki-Young said only District 4, which covers the Kaneohe, Kailua and Kahuku areas, and Traffic Division personnel still need the cameras.

All the body-worn cameras were supposed to be issued by the end of 2020, but HPD said a "billing discrepancy " with the city Department of Budget and Fiscal Services caused the delay.

But as the final body-worn cameras are being moved out, there have been a handful of cases of them being used improperly.

During last week's commission meeting, HPD also went over an annual legislative disciplinary report showing that five officers who were disciplined in 2020 had "failed to activate " or had deactivated their body-worn cameras and did not "submit appropriate reports."

None of the five officers were disciplined just for having their cameras off. Rather, multiple offenses were in play.

Four of those officers were left anonymous in the report, as their cases are still going through grievance processes to possibly reduce the severity of their punishment.

One officer "displayed partiality when responding to a domestic argument involving HPD personnel, " "deactivated the body-worn camera, and failed to submit a written report." Another officer did the same thing but simply did not turn on the camera.

Another "used a work computer to obtain a female's personal contact information for nonwork-related purposes " and "sent unwanted text messages to the female " in addition to failing to active his body camera.

All three officers were suspended for one day.

One officer was discharged in an incident involving "multiple traffic fatalities." The officer "engaged in a motor vehicle pursuit and failed to follow departmental policy " and "provided false information regarding the motor vehicle pursuit in his police report " in addition to failing to activate his body camera.

The only officer who failed to activate his body camera and is named in the report is Anthony Chong. Chong received a final 10-day suspension after he "slapped and kicked an individual to the ground while effecting an arrest." He also "repeatedly made derogatory comments " in the incident.

The one-day suspensions suggest that the misuse of body-worn cameras carry, at most, a one-day penalty for officers.

Honolulu Police Commission Chairwoman Shannon Alivado said it's not clear what the actual penalty is for turning off or failing to turn on the body cameras, but that a one-day penalty isn't enough.

"It's hard for me to understand the big picture without getting a little bit more about how they assess the penalty ... but without knowing that and seeing that it's only a one-day suspension, it doesn't seem efficient, " Alivado said.

ACLU of Hawaii Executive Director Joshua Wisch said employing body-worn cameras alone cannot help with police oversight.

"Police body cameras have the potential to be one helpful police oversight tool, but more needs to be done to make that happen, " Wisch said in a statement, adding, "We need more transparent policies about when the cameras can be deactivated, adherence to those policies, and penalties for noncompliance with department policy."

ALCU has released.

Alivado said the commission, for its part, cannot change department policy.

"We have the ability to review policies and request changes, but ultimately, it's up to the department to act on it, " she said.

Wisch said that, beyond department policy, "what we really need is a uniform state law or strong county laws governing body camera use."

The Honolulu Police Department did not respond to questions from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for this story.

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