Police misconduct records would stay sealed under bill sent to governor
HAWAII–The state legislature has passed a bill that would seal all records of police misconduct except in cases where police officers actually are discharged from duty. Names and records involving police officers who are disciplined but not fired would be secret.
The legislative report on the bill — which now is before Gov. Benjamin Cayetano — says its purpose is to “allow for the disclosure of misconduct of police officers if such misconduct results in the officer’s discharge.”
Two years ago, at the urging of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), the legislature barred public access to police disciplinary records involving conduct not directly related to official police duties. That law and the new bill only apply to police officers and not to other public officials or employees.
The 1993 law sealed information about police officers’ spousal and child abuse, drug use and alcohol use or other misconduct that did not occur in an official capacity. State and county officials told counsel for the Society of Professional Journalists at the University of Hawaii in a 1993 records request case that the law sealed information on half of the disciplinary actions brought against police.
SHOPO first began its push to close off all police disciplinary records after a University of Hawaii student requested information about suspended and terminated police officers in August 1993. The police first offered to release the information on four officers for $20,000, then delayed further action until SHOPO filed suit to keep the information secret. At a court hearing in March 1994, 500 officers, most of them armed and in uniform, showed up for the hearing, surrounding the state court building.
The circuit judge ordered disclosure, but six months later the state Supreme Court, without reversing the circuit court, ordered a trial to determine whether the Hawaii disclosure law requires that the records be open. Trial is set for November. (SB 171)