New Hawaii Law Requires Transparency and Accountability in Police Use of Force

HONOLULU, HAWAII – A new law took effect on January 1st, requiring all police agencies in Hawaii to have accessible written policies on the use of force. This legislation, known as Act 190, also allows these policies and related training to be presented as evidence in legal proceedings. The law mandates that law enforcement officers report instances of excessive force by their colleagues and receive training aimed at reducing the use of excessive force.

Act 190 was signed into law by Governor Josh Green in July of the previous year. The bill, Senate Bill 151, was introduced during the 2023 legislative session by Oahu Democratic Senators Stanley Chang, Karl Rhoads, and Maile Shimabukuro.

While some police departments supported the intent of the bill, they expressed concerns about its final form. Chief Ben Moszkowicz of the Hawaii Police Department stated that much of what the Senate bill aimed to achieve was already in compliance with existing policies. The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), a powerful police union, opposed the legislation, arguing that it undermined the authority of county police departments and their chiefs.

In opposition to the law, SHOPO President Bobby Cavaco highlighted the dangers faced by police officers and the existing safeguards in place to hold them accountable. Cavaco also claimed that the bill catered to anti-police sentiment and accused it of attempting to appease those who called for defunding the police. He emphasized the importance of well-trained police officers and expressed concerns about the law’s potential to expose officers to civil liability.

The state Attorney General Anne Lopez, as well as the Honolulu and Kauai police departments, also sought modifications to the bill.

The Hawaii Police Department (HPD) already has a use-of-force policy available on its website under General Orders. The policy outlines the standards of conduct, emphasizing the prohibition of excessive force and mandatory reporting of any instances. Chief Moszkowicz explained that the department is implementing a more streamlined reporting process, collecting data immediately after use-of-force incidents to improve their reporting practices. This data will include details on the use of pepper spray and tasers, providing valuable insights for future analysis.

The new law aims to increase transparency and accountability within Hawaii’s police agencies. By requiring accessible written policies and introducing them as evidence in legal proceedings, lawmakers hope to promote responsible use of force and ensure officers are held accountable for their actions. As the law takes effect, it remains to be seen how it will impact law enforcement practices and public perception in Hawaii.