- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii lawmakers are pushing for more police oversight in the wake of incidents that they say chipped away at the public’s trust.

Hawaii is the only state without a statewide board to ensure that law enforcement officers meet certain standards for hiring and training. Two Senate Committees passed a bill Thursday that would create that type of board.

A similar proposal failed in the Legislature last year, but this year 17 senators signed on to co-introduce the proposal, SB2725.

“We think that’s a good indication that that’s something our colleagues want to pass,” said Democratic Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee.

The Honolulu Police Department opposed the bill, saying the department already meets the highest possible standards. At the hearing, Major Gordon Shirasishi of the Honolulu Police Department said new recruits initially receive 1,100 hours of training.

“We’re not just sitting on our heels,” Shiraishi said.

But supporters of the proposal say they want members of the public and law enforcement experts sitting on the board, to provide enhanced oversight.

“Just because there’s officers looking over officers, I think that doesn’t get to the kind of transparency and the concerns that some of us have,” Baker said. “We need to have some oversight and to strive for better.”

Aaron Hunger, a doctoral researcher at University of Hawaii and former Florida police officer, said he is disappointed that the bill that passed didn’t include a way to enforce the high standards the lawmakers sought.

“There is no mechanism designed within the bill to allow them to enforce these standards … Having an external oversight mechanism seems critical at this point,” Hunger said.

A similar bill that included more enforcement mechanisms was killed by the committee Thursday, in part because the bill that passed had more support, senators said.

“Even barbers have to be licensed for their jobs, so how come law enforcement officers, who have the power to arrest and invoke fines and even are capable of taking a life in some situations, don’t have to be licensed?” said Robert Ford, a student in the criminal justice program at Remington College who testified in support of the bill.

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