Policing of Hawaii Airport Triggers Lawsuit
by Nicholas Fillmore, CourtHouse News, 7/14/2016
HONOLULU (CN) — A labor union of Hawaii government employees sued the state's governor and airport chiefs, claiming that police functions at Honolulu International Airport are being usurped by private contractor Securitas.
Hawaii Government Employees Association AFSCME Local 152 sued Gov. David Ige, Director of Transportation Ford Fuchigami and Deputy Director of Airports Ross Higachi on behalf of the airport sheriff detail in state court on July 12.
First hired by the State Department of Transportation in 2008 to keep traffic moving after a TSA agent was assaulted in a drop-off lane outside the airport, Securitas' role has expanded over time, according to the complaint.
Some Securitas personnel carry guns and make arrests, and are designated by DOT-Oahu to be the first responders in the event of security breaches, medical and other emergencies. Additionally, the security guards issue traffic tickets, question witnesses and subjects, and generate criminal reports while wearing uniforms and driving vehicles similar in appearance to the real police, the complaint says.
The expansion of Securitas' duties has resulted in a duplication of police roles, "potentially compromising the prosecution of criminal cases, confusing members of the public, creating potential civil liability, and creating tension between Securitas personnel and the sheriffs," the union says in its complaint.
Hawaii's Department of Transportation violates merit principles as defined by the state constitution, the union says.
"The Hawaii State Constitution provides: 'The employment of persons in the civil service shall be governed by the merit principle,'" the union says in its complaint.
"In Konno v. County of Hawaii, the Hawaii Supreme Court held that the contracting out or privatization of services which have historically and customarily been performed by civil servants violates the constitutionally protected merit principle.
"The law enforcement and policing services performed by the Securitas personnel at HIA have historically and customarily been performed by civil servants under the merit system."
According to the union, efforts to discuss the state's expansion of Securitas' law enforcement role at the airport have been fruitless. Securitas is not a party to the union's lawsuit, and did not respond to requests for comment.
The Governor's office referred questions to the Department of Transportation. A spokesman for the department said he could not comment on pending litigation, adding that Securitas had been "contracted in addition to sheriff's deputies."
A subsequent request for clarification on the authority to deputize private contractors to perform public safety duties was pending as of press time.
In 2014, Securitas and the state faced a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed guards detained and assaulted him outside the airport gate without probable cause or legal justification.
Honolulu International Airport is the only "Category X" airport— among the largest and busiest—that uses private contractors as police.
The union is represented by James Koshiba and Charles Price of the firm Koshiba Price Gruebner & Mau in Honolulu, who did not return a phone call seeking comment.