ACLU To HPD: Stop Racial Profiling, Even If Unintended

Jul 7, 2020

The American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii Chapter is calling on the Honolulu Police Department to address racial disparities in its policing.

The letter cites HPR’s recent investigation into the enforcement of stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Over three months, members of the Micronesian, Samoan and Black communities were arrested in disproportion to their numbers in the general population.

The letter also cited Civil Beat’s coverage of racial disparities in the use of police force against Black citizens, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders over eight years.

ACLU is urging HPD to stop what it describes as aggressive enforcement of low level offenses and racial and wealth-based profiling. It also called for an end to citations, stops and arrests as a measure of productivity in the police force.

"We are not trying to say that this is about bad individual police officers or that anyone in HPD is necessarily racist or anything like that," said ACLU Legal Director Mateo Caballero. "We're talking about systemic issues and, and as the letter makes clear, you can have racial profiling, even when unintended to target a specific group.

"So again, this is not about bad intentions. 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."

The letter also expressed the need for HPD to make data about its policing practices more available. Caballero explained that without investigations launched by journalists, there is very little information available about law enforcement in Hawaii.

“The most basic information that we should be getting is things like arrest information . . . also for stops and citations and essentially interaction sort of arrest, which might also show us what the police is doing, and how they're devoting the resources,” he said. “We need to better understand law enforcement priorities in Honolulu, and also in Hawaii in general might have a disproportionate effect or impact on different groups. The only way we're going to do that is through data.” The most recent compilation of statistics about policing practices in Hawaii is from the Attorney General’s 2017 review of uniformed crime reports. 

Honolulu Police Department Deputy Chief John McCarthy says the ACLU’s letter is under review and that HPD does not engage in, or tolerate profiling of any kind.

Police Chief Susan Ballard has said in the past she doesn’t think there needs to be sweeping changes at HPD after nationwide calls for police reform. But she might consider some version of implicit bias training.

Chair Shannon Alivado says the Honolulu Police Commission is open to improving HPD but any issues need to be identified before changes can be proposed. She says arrests cannot be lumped together and any analysis should be on a case-by-case basis.

The ACLU asked HPD and the commission for a response to its letter by July 20th.

ACLU Letter to HPD Re Discriminatory Policing