Statement from Honolulu Police Department, November 30, 2020
Over the months, we have heard many opinions on HPD’s enforcement of the COVID emergency order. To say that enforcement has been difficult would be an understatement. However, this administration and our officers are dedicated to trying to do what is best for our community.
First, we accept responsibility for the officers who violated HPD’s overtime policy regarding the number of hours worked using the COVID funds. Although these officers worked the hours, they still violated the department’s policy that limits overtime in order to protect the officer and the public. As a result, we have opened multiple investigations, and those who violated laws or administrative policies will be disciplined appropriately. This includes officers as well as their supervisors. While the COVID enforcement teams have been suspended, on-duty patrol officers will continue to respond to COVID calls along with other calls for service.
Second, from the onset, the HPD expressed concern that the classification of emergency order violations as a misdemeanor was problematic and, in our opinion, a disproportionate response that would clog the courts. HPD believes that a fine would have accomplished the desired change in public behavior without flooding the courts. Despite the warning, there were no attempts to lower the classification to a violation or petty misdemeanor which would have made the penalty a fine except in rare cases.
Criminal justice is a three-legged stool comprised of the police, prosecutors, and courts. None can stand alone. While HPD expected a certain amount of citations to be dismissed for technical reasons, the dismissal of tens of thousands of citations gives the impression that the citations were issued in error, and that is not the case. Violations were observed and enforcement actions were taken. We understand that the Prosecutor’s Office and Judiciary are not set up to handle the unprecedented volume, but enforcement is only effective when all parts of the system work and support each other.
Lastly, homelessness was an issue prior to the pandemic, it is an issue during the pandemic, and it will continue to be an issue after the pandemic if we do not work together to address it. I agree with others that the HPD should not be leading this effort. However, when the pandemic hit and shelters began limiting new clients and requiring quarantining before admittance, homeless individuals who wanted to get off the street had nowhere to go. It was then that HPD officers stepped up again by creating a safe and hygienic temporary shelter at Keehi Lagoon.
We are all in this together, and HPD cannot do this job alone. During this challenging time, it is up to each and every one of us to do our part to keep Honolulu safe, healthy, and viable for all members of our community. We know recovery will be slow, but it will come if we all do our part.
As always, please avoid large gatherings, wear facial coverings, and physically distance. And know that despite the ever changing challenges, the HPD remains committed to serving and protecting our community – the community that we live in and love – to the best of our ability.
Chief Susan Ballard
Honolulu Police Department