HPD Investigations Behind The Times

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - November 18, 2009
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HPD could use a wireless accident simulator

I’m sure we’ll end up with a first-rate Honolulu police chief this or next week. We always do. But I take issue with Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s July hint to the Police Commission that the new chief be found in our own ranks.

We haven’t tried an outsider since William Gabrielson of the Berkeley PD, 1932-46. In-breeding has its downsides.

HPD has three glaring faults. One is its stinginess with information that rightfully belongs to the public but is treated as theirs to know and ours to try to find out. Two is the union contract that shields disciplined officers from public exposure. Three is long road closings while investigating accidents - like those six hours at a Makapuu fatal.

The first two won’t change until there’s a culture change brought on by an outside chief. The road closings will change if we all complain loud enough or blow our horns. Nothing works like a dose of revolution!

It’s not unusual to have a major roadway closed for four hours while the cops photograph, chat, wait for a medical examiner and slowly get the wreckage moved. Very slowly.


We’re not the only ones. Our previous chief liked to cite Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

“We recognize that it is a huge inconvenience for the public, but it has to be done,” said Phoenix detective Anthony Morales. “We can’t investigate a fatal motor vehicle accident while we’re trying to dodge cars.”

Bill Redfairn, a former Hawaii resident who moved to the Las Vegas Police Department’s fatal accident detail, said it’s not uncommon for fatal accident investigations to last up to four hours. “Once we clear up the scene that evidence is gone.”

Yeah, but, come on, guys. There’s so much new technology that allows you to collect evidence more quickly. You’re just wedded to the old way. State Rep. Rita Cabanilla has been pushing for years for HPD to move into digital measurement and forgo the medical examiner where no murder is suspected. For $50,000, we can have an accident reconstruction simulator with animation software. It stays at the station and data is fed to it from the scene.

The current HPD policy cannot be defended. Wreckage and even bodies can be moved to the side as the investigation goes on. Traffic can and should move.

Other law enforcement agencies have started using digital surveying equipment such as iWitness to document accident scenes. This requires an electronic rotating telescope with a distance-measuring device and a built-in microprocessor to automatically measure and record distances and angles to a reflector placed at the points of interest at the accident scene.

It measures three-dimensional surface coordinates. It operates up to a distance of 150 feet from the camera. It has the same accuracy and precision as our manual system, which is about one foot.

It requires a Kodak DC-120 digital camera system with 1280 x 960 resolution, a 16-degree field of view, automatic focus and automatic shut off, and an extendable, 6-inch-by-7-foot, red-and-white-striped rod equipped with a flip-chart with letters and numbers for identifying measurement points.

Or we can sit in our cars for four to six hours.


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