Friday, January 1, 1999

HPD disciplined
fewer in ’98

Both the number of firings
and suspensions were down from
the previous year's totals

By James K. Song


The number of Honolulu police officers who were fired or suspended dropped in 1998 along with the overall crime rate and the number of homicide cases.

Two officers were fired and 51 were suspended in 1998, according to a report submitted by the Honolulu Police Department to the state Legislature. In 1997, four officers were fired and 85 were suspended.

"We're not perfect. We make mistakes like everyone else -- we're human," said Sgt. Richard Wheeler, Oahu chapter chairman of the police officers union.

Still, Wheeler said he believes the ratio of officers being disciplined in the 1,900-member force is lower than in other city departments.

Last year, one officer was fired for threatening and harassing (by stalking) an estranged spouse, the report stated.

The other termination was for failing a drunken-driving field sobriety test, sleeping while on duty and intimidating a witness in an administrative investigation.

Police Chief Lee Donohue is on vacation this week and was not available for comment.

According to the report, the suspensions ranged from one to 30 days. About 75 percent of the suspensions ranged from one to five days.

When joining the force, each officer undergoes an extensive screening process including checks on background, character, criminal history and drug use.

And they are paid to uphold the law. So, shouldn't police officers be held to a higher standard than the rest of the community?

"No," Wheeler responded. "We're all people. We all make errors in judgment from time to time. Just because somebody does a different type of job doesn't make them less human.

"You press the wrong button, anyone will lose their temper -- it doesn't matter what you do."

Wheeler said police work has stresses and procedures that no other city job has.

Four of the 1998 suspension cases were for "abusing a household member." One officer also received a 10-day suspension for being "involved in an off-duty motor vehicle collision and was later found to have a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit."

"It's really tough," Wheeler said. "I think the guys have been under greater strain this year than they ever have been because (of) a lot of things."

Hawaii's economy has been lackluster and some mainland police departments have recruited at the understaffed HPD with promises of higher pay and a lower cost of living. Nonetheless, Honolulu recorded about a 10 percent drop in overall crime and the fewest homicides in 30 years.

"Again, we have to remember that there are a lot of officers who had to work a lot of tough hours away from their families," Wheeler said. "I'm proud of them for decreasing the number of complaints under such adverse conditions. I think they've done pretty good under those circumstances."

The 30-day suspension was for missing court and being absent without leave.

The three 20-day suspensions were for assaulting a prisoner, altering a legal document, and being "present at the site of an illegal gambling activities while off duty."

Some of the one-day suspensions included failing to appear in court, inappropriate conduct, failing to follow proper procedures, being absent without leave, pleading guilty to third-degree assault, and conspiring to alter a parking ticket.

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