The public interest in Hawai‘i is overwhelmingly served by Act 47’s provision requiring that its police departments disclose to the Legislature the names of police officers who have been suspended or discharged but whose grievance processes are not yet final, argues a brief filed last week by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaiʻi Foundation (“ACLU of Hawaiʻi”).
For decades, Hawaii’s public records law shielded law enforcement from accountability by letting police departments withhold from the Legislature and the public the details of police misconduct. Act 47, which lifted this cloud of secrecy, emerged from a years-long conversation within the Hawaiʻi Legislature about restoring public trust in law enforcement. Like so many other states, Hawaiʻi has decided it is time to increase transparency as a critical step in rebuilding the relationship between law enforcement and the people, particularly Pacific Islander and Black communities. The state police union, the State of Hawaiʻi Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), filed suit challenging these reforms.
“Like so many other police associations and unions across the country, SHOPO is fighting commonsense efforts to hold police officers accountable and to increase the transparency of discipline against police officers,” said John Fowler, counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Courts across the country have rejected those efforts to block oversight of police departments, and for good reason. Police associations and unions should not be allowed to circumvent the will of the people, and SHOPO should not be allowed to undo long-needed reform in Hawaiʻi.”
“Act 47 does not violate the Hawai‘i Constitution,” said Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest. “Public trust in policing requires confidence that abuses by those enforcing the laws will be addressed. Such trust withers in secrecy. The Legislature correctly recognized that the people of Hawai‘i need to know more about how police departments handle misconduct.”
“In the wake of the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others last year, our country is once again being forced to reckon with its troubling history of police violence and misconduct, especially against communities of color,” said Wookie Kim, staff attorney at the ACLU of Hawaiʻi. “While Honolulu’s police chief thinks that this national conversation should skip Hawaiʻi, the truth is that racism is alive and well here—and the racial disparities we see in policing confirm that. Coupled with the many recent police scandals, it has become painfully clear that we need to reimagine policing in Hawaiʻi. Act 47 plays an important role in this process. By increasing the public’s access to the disciplinary records and history of police officers who’ve abused their power, we can better understand the scale and scope of police misconduct, and truly begin to reimagine what policing looks like in Hawaiʻi.”
“Gibson Dunn is proud to represent the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Civil Beat Law Center, and the ACLU of Hawai‘i in their effort to advocate for Act 47 and the tremendously important role it will play in improving transparency and accountability in law enforcement and in rebuilding the relationship between law enforcement and the people of Hawai‘i,” said Shireen Barday, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
Read the amicus brief here.