On Technology & Policing in Hawaii

On Technology & Policing in Hawaii

CARES funds spent by the Honolulu Police Department on new technologies impact how police work with our citizenry.

These purchases come with new questions, and stir up old ones, about technology, law enforcement, oversight of and by the public, and the use of force.

On 08/14 HPD spent $118k of CARE$ on a “COVID-19; simulator for police recruits and officers to engage in simulated force training scenarios”

The contract is with Ti Training.

The COVID connection to training better gunfighters is unclear.

Remember that BostonDynamics video with the animatronic doglike robot?
You know, the one that inspired the Black Mirror episode Metalhead?

On 08/25 Honolulu Police Department spent $150k of CARE$ on a SPOT robot to “conduct field elevated body temperature checks at POST”

FYI, POST = Provisional Outdoor Screening & Triage, aka the City’s camp for homeless where, w/ other supports, “food will be provided to participants twice a day”

HPDs $120k, from 04/03, for food to support those at POST? Still doesn’t have a vendor..

We should certainly be spending funds to support vulnerable populations.
Using CARES as a slush fund to get new tech, let alone paddy wagons (+ other items covered by Civil Beat), however may be four-wheeling us deeper into concerning territory.


A year ago, I filed Uniform Information Practices Act open information requests about facial recognition use by local and state law enforcement.

HPD responded that they use the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center’s, and that I should file with the Attorney General’s office for info.

So I did. But soon hit a pay wall..

Despite a $60 discount, for the request being in the public interest, $150 was needed to get 99 pages info.

What is the GoFundMe for accessing public data?

My initial request to HPD however was not limited to the details of the technology, but also covered: policies, training and use.

I got no reply when I pointed this out…

Fortunately the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s Altas of Surveillance provides useful insight on tech in policing.

Many are already aware that @honolulupolice use body cameras.

Maui Police Department and HPD have operated drones since 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Both have also used drones to enforce stay-at-home orders.


Lesser known is that @honolulupolice and the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center began using face recognition tech in 2014.

And, since 2015 all Hawaii counties have used the tech.

ACLU and others well documented the issues with such tech in policing


Idemia Group is the facial tech vendor for Hawaii, and many, many, many, others. It also has a rocky history

This week, Portland joined other cities in banning facial recognition technology by government agencies and expanded their curtailing to use by private entities in public space.

Back to the islands, another great concern is Maui Police Department’s 2019 partnership with Amazon’s Ring, to access to the company’s home surveillance data.

They are far from alone in this concerning mixture of private and government surveillance.

Ring’s map of partnerships with local law enforcement

Finally, we also have the Hawaii Fusion Center. Operated by local/state law enforcement partnered w/ US Dept. of Homeland Security as “a command center for gathering, analyzing and disseminating intelligence”

See the full data on Hawaii (and the country) at the Atlas of Surveillance.

So, why does it matter?

Well, police departments around the country are now using geofence warrants as another approach to surveillance that tramples the 4th amendment.

These pull and sift bulk location data as a digital dragnet with no shortage of bycatch.


Since we already can’t get a straight answer from HPD about their use of technology with well documented flaws, how are we to assess their use of any technology in furthering justice and the public good?

This is not a hypothetical.

The $118k of CARE$ spent on the ‘use of force simulator’, supposedly related to COVID, appears to be oriented to training when to shoot human beings, not how to reduce the need to shoot anyone.

Research shows procedural justice policing strategies, those that emphasize respect, neutrality, and transparency in the exercise of authority, resulted in the reduced the use of force against civilians.

Wood, G., Tyler, T. R., & Papachristos, A. V. (2020). Procedural justice training reduces police use of force and complaints against officers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences117(18), 9815-9821.

Use of force training is a clearly a critical skill for our officers in the line of fire.

However: “There is no national or universal rule governing when law enforcement officers may use force, or what degree of force is justified.”

With technology now a mediating factor in nearly every facet of modern life, the tech used in the determination and meting out of justice require constant review.

Fortunately there is lineage of such critical thinking we can grow from.

Ivan Illich, noted by @LMSacasas, found

“We need research on the possible use of technology to create institutions which serve personal, creative, and autonomous interaction and the emergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats.”


We must ask if police tech can ever yield a more convivial society with greater human flourishing.

We cannot allow use of force training tech, or drones & robots, to remain as opaque to public scrutiny as facial recognition has.

We need better policies to police our policing.