By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A number of police critics as well as several supporters showed up at the County Building in Hilo on Monday night to weigh in on the Hawaii Police Department’s efforts to obtain national accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
The assessors, Chief William Benson of the Wheeling, Ill., police and Sgt. Charles Groover of the Covington, Ga., police listened to more than two hours of public testimony.
Much of it centered around the so-called Peaceful Sky Initiative passed by voters in 2008, which makes adult use of marijuana on private property the “lowest law enforcement priority” in the county.
“They don’t wanna follow it,” said Mike Ruggles, a marijuana activist who filed suit against the county and the police. “One week out of every month, (state pot eradication helicopters with the assistance of local police) come into Puna and terrorize us. And I mean all week long, eight-hour days, 40 hours a week.”
His suit, which was dismissed, is on appeal.
County Prosecutor Charlene Iboshi said the initiative went on the ballot despite the recommendation by the corporation counsel and county clerk “that it is an illegal measure.”
“More recently this year, our Circuit Court has found … that due to preemption, the state and federal laws apply. So regardless of what people here say, you still have to enforce the law,” she said.
Toni Robert, coordinator of Kahakai Neighborhood Organized Watch said: “I live in Puna and I’m not terrorized, just so you know. Not all of us are terrorized.”
Robert noted an accreditation goal to “strengthen crime prevention and control capabilities.” She said after meeting with Puna Community Policing officers, her group has secured “a meeting place free of charge,” recruited “a nice nucleus of members” and put up a Facebook page with monthly crime statistics.
“I believe the support of the Hawaii County Police Department and its good-natured community police officers speaks successfully (to that goal),” she said.
Shelley Stephens has filed a federal suit against the county and police alleging their policies authorize the use of excessive force against women and children arrestees and pointed to what she said is a police training document instructing officers to jab women and children in the neck if they resist arrest.
“The U.S. Marshal doesn’t strike the neck, the (state) sheriff doesn’t strike the neck and the Honolulu Police Department, which is accredited, doesn’t strike the neck. The scary thing about it is when I went to the community meeting with the deparment, they denied that this is their document,” Stephens told the assessors.
Dan Cole, a longtime police critic, as he has in the past, alleged systematic corruption and violations of federal racketeering laws by the department.
“Sadly, CALEA is being used as a shield by the Hawaii County Police Department,” he said.
Benson said the assessors are “not here as an investigative body.”
“Initial accredidation is to hold that Hawaii Police Department has the ability to comply with standards. Your comments and any pertinent information you provide will be forwarded to the commission,” he said.
Police Commission Chairman Ken Ono urged accreditation.
“We believe that any accrediting body that’s national in scope brings a set of standards that we consider to be important enough for a police department, whether it be on the island of Hawaii, whether it be in Washington State, or whether it be in Iowa. They should apply the same standards,” he said.
Loren Mochida, director of agriculture operations for W.H. Shipman Ltd., said Puna Community Policing has helped farmers organize a Keaau Farm Watch “due to the excessive theft, illegal hunting, trespassing violations and vandalism that are occurring on the farm lots spanning over 20,000 acres in the Keaau areas.”
“This has led to criminal arrests on a few occasions,” he said.
Iboshi said the department has to cover a large geographical area and a community with myriad social problems with few resources.
“If you look at the backdrop of what the Police Department is trying to do, it’s pretty remarkable,” she said. “They could just sit back and say ‘we don’t have the resources to come up with some standards and apply those standards. But they have been working for … years now to get some standards, to be respectful of the public, to have standards that can be measured. … And only with standards will the public be satisfied with their performance or their non-performance.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.