Student journalists win right to police disciplinary records
HAWAII–In mid-November, the Hawaii Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the disciplinary records of four policemen must be turned over to the student journalists who requested them.
The court’s ruling also held that state privacy laws did not apply in this case because the employees’ disciplinary records did not include “highly personal and intimate information.”
The students, members of a student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the University of Hawaii, have been seeking access to the records since August 1993.
On February 10, 1994, one day before the date that the Honolulu Police Department said it would finally give SPJ the documents, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) and four unnamed police officers filed suit against the city in circuit court in Honolulu. SPJ also filed suit, asking the court to order the police to comply with the records request.
SHOPO argued that release of the officers’ names would cause irreparable damage, and noted that a government employees’ contract provision calls for the confidentiality of the records of members suspended or fired.
The circuit court ruled that SHOPO’s contract provisions superseded the open records law and granted SHOPO and the four police officers a temporary restraining order that barred the disclosure of their disciplinary records.
Hawaii’s highest court ruled that this policy conflicted with the Uniform Information Practices Act, which bars the negotiation of confidentiality.
However, this decision may have little effect on future access to police disciplinary records because in May 1995, Hawaii’s legislature passed a law that allows the government to withhold disciplinary information about police officers unless they have been fired from the force. (State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers v. Society of Professional Journalists-University of Hawaii Chapter; Media Counsel: Jeffrey Portnoy, Honolulu)