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Police could wear body cameras under state proposal

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Police officers could end up donning body cameras under a proposal in Hawaii state Legislature that would enable the Honolulu Police Department to begin a pilot program.

The Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs approved the bill, HB 365, on Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii supported the proposal, but the group wants to make sure there are guidelines for protecting citizens’ privacy. While the group is generally against the proliferation of surveillance cameras in society, it says police body cameras are different because of the potential to serve as a check against abuse of police powers.

“If I were a police officer, I would definitely want to have that as my own armor to show that in tricky situations that I’m doing everything by the book and above board,” said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, a Maui Democrat who supported the proposal.

Another bill passed by the committee, HB 456, would end a requirement that complaints about domestic abuse committed by a police officer be made in writing or in a sworn statement.

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers opposed the bill, arguing in written testimony about how allegations of domestic abuse can impact an officer. The group said once such an allegation is made, the officer’s police powers are removed, and then he or she can’t work “special duty” assignments to earn extra money that’s often used for mortgage and tuition payments.

During the hearing, Baker questioned why victims of domestic abuse by police officers were singled out and made to provide written or sworn statements.

“It’s like going after some of the most vulnerable, to make another hoop that somebody’s got to jump over in order to get attention,” Baker said. “It’s only for domestic violence? I mean it just defies logic.”

On the body camera proposal, it’s unclear exactly how much the program would cost. The bill leaves the dollar amount blank, but it says the police department must match the state funds. A House committee had suggested granting $50,000, but testimony by a police union indicated the program could cost $300,000 for cameras and $100,000 to $300,000 per year for video storage.

“Because this is the pilot program, they’re probably not going to do the whole department all at once,” said Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the committee. “I’m hoping we can give them at least a minimum of $100,000…it’s all going to really depend on the budget and the other bills.”

Republican Sen. Sam Slom voted for the proposal with reservations about the unknown cost. “What’s the total going to be? Are we talking about all the counties? Are there operational costs?” Slom asked.

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