HomePasifikaHonolulu Police Commission questions racial disparities in use of force

Honolulu Police Commission questions racial disparities in use of force

From Wikimedia Creative Commons by Gillfoto

The Honolulu Police Commission raised concerns about the Honolulu Police Department’s (HPD) disproportionate impact on Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians and Black people during instances of use of force, Honolulu Civil Beat reports.

The “significant racial disparities” in use of force were discovered in a report released in November 2020, which wasn’t discussed by the commission until a meeting on Wednesday

According to the report, more than a third of incidents that included use of force involved Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, who only make up a quarter of Hawaii’s population. Black people were involved in 7.4% of incidents despite making up only 2-4% of the population.

The HPD’s use of force policy states that a report must be filed whenever any officer “uses force beyond routine handcuffing.” This includes everything from identification of officer authority to light touches or escorts to the usage of tasers or firearms.

The officer must have a legitimate reason to use force, taking into account three factors: the severity of the crime, the level of threat, and the level of resistance.

Similar racial disparities can be seen in the rates of arrest, with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders representing 38.1% of total arrests and Black people representing 5.2%.

Hawaii Public Radio found both Pacific Islander and Blacks were disproportionately represented in those cited for violating Hawaii’s COVID=19 stay at home orders.

In response to the investigation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Hawaii Chapter sent a letter to HPD, urging the institution to stop the “aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses” as well as racial- and wealth-based profiling. 

“This is not about bad intentions,” Mateo Caballero, ACLU Legal Director, told Hawaii Public Radio. “This is about a bad system. And we really hope that Chief Ballard and HPD are willing to take a look and see how decisions they’re making might be having a disparate impact on specific groups.”

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard responded to the ACLU letter, saying that the findings of racial profiling in the HPD were “unfair, unfounded, and just plain wrong.” She cited the police force’s racial diversity, stating that racial bias and prejudice are much less prominent in Hawaii than in the mainland U.S.

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