Posted on Feb 23, 2004 in Formal Opinions

Opinion Letter No. 04-05
February 23, 2004
Honolulu Police Commission Records

A member of the public requested access to records of the Honolulu Police Commission (“Commission”) pertaining to investigations of complaints against police officers convicted of police brutality.

The Commission routinely destroys records after 30 months, and thus maintained no records responsive to the record request. The OIP therefore provided the Commission with general advice on how to respond to future similar requests.

First, although the Commission adopted a rule that makes its investigative reports confidential, the rule is not a “state law” for purposes of the UIPA and cannot be used to avoid disclosure of records that are otherwise public under the UIPA. The UIPA, not the Commission’s rules, dictates whether its records of the investigations may be withheld.

Assuming the Commission maintains records pertaining to a criminal conviction of a police officer, they are presumed public under the UIPA, subject to the exceptions at section 92F-13, HRS. Information about individuals mentioned in Commission investigations may be withheld from public disclosure to the extent that disclosure would constitute “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” under section 92F-13(1), HRS.

In addition, agencies are not required to disclose government records that must be confidential for the government to avoid the frustration of a legitimate government function. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 92F-13(3) (1993). This exception applies to certain records or information compiled for law enforcement and other purposes. Public information which is reasonably segregable from nonpublic information, however, should be made available.

The decision of whether to deny access to investigative records must be made on a case-by-case basis; and the OIP advised the Commission to consult with the OIP or its own attorney upon receipt of a record request.

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