(BIVN) – On Tuesday, the Hawaiʻi County Council Committee on Public Safety voted in support of a resolution requesting an increase in the number of police officers assigned to the Puna district. But not everyone in the area wants to see more police.
Several residents came forward during public testimony to express their concerns with alleged mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement.
“The police have terrorized me and my family and a lot of my friends, and I have never committed a crime,” said Danette Godines. “We live in fear of the police. We have PTSD because of the police.”
Others supported the increase in police for Puna, but wanted the officers to undergo additional training in order to handle certain situations with greater compassion.
“It’s a known fact in the disability community on the Big Island to call the EMT or fire department in an emergency, because the EMT workers have different standards than the Big Island police,” said Margaret Shim.
“Disabled individuals make up the majority of those killed in the use of force cases,” Shim said. “Trained to shoot first and ask questions later, police pose a risk to anyone with special needs whose disabilities may not be immediately apparent, or require more finesse, than the typical ‘freeze or Iʻll shoot you’ tactics employed by our Hawaiʻi police forces.”
Hawaiʻi County Council chair Aaron Chung, who supports beefing up the island’s police presence, said to those testifiers who had bad experiences with the police department, that the police in Puna “are under a lot of pressure. And I would hate to be in their position – especially given the lack of manpower in those areas, in their really remote areas – very, very dangerous.”
“It behooves us to provide more funding,” Chung said. “Its up to the administration to do the implementation and the training.”
Mayor Harry Kim also appears to be in support of the resolution. In his preliminary budget for the fiscal year 2019-2020, Mayor Kim included several new positions for police in the Puna and Kaʻū districts, as well as funding for police body-worn cameras.