All this week Honolulu Hale is illuminated in blue in observance of Police Week. The national tradition dates to a proclamation signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

Support for cops is well deserved. But a proposal being considered by the Honolulu City Council would tie the city and its top officials uncomfortably closer to the Honolulu Police Department. If approved, we may as well paint Honolulu Hale scarlet red — for shame.

Under Resolution 17-308, the mayor would have the power to hire and fire the police instead of the seven-member Honolulu Police Commission. If approved by the council and the mayor, the issue will go before voters this November.

This is a bad idea, one that attempts to fix something that is not broken, at least not anymore. It could also reverse significant progress that has been made to restore public trust in local law enforcement — an institution that, you may have read about in these pages, has had its large share of ethical and legal challenges in recent years.

A photo from the Twitter account of Mayor Kirk Caldwell May 14, which reads, “Today we honor and remember those 48 @honolulupolice officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. #PoliceWeek”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell

Resolution 17-308 comes from Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who argues that it’s difficult to hold the Police Commission “directly accountable” for its decisions.

“If the mayor asked the police chief to do anything unethical or if the mayor chose a turkey to be the police chief, then the voters of Honolulu would hold the mayor accountable,” he explained.

If the mayor chose a turkey to be chief, our guess is that the mayor would be chased out of City Hall by an infuriated public and possibly institutionalized. And if a chief were asked to do something unethical, we would hope it would not require an election to oust a mayor.

Anderson has previously expressed displeasure with the Police Commission.

Last year, he introduced a measure that would give the City Council the power to select three of the seven commissioners, who are all currently appointed by the mayor and then approved by the council. The measure said it was in the best interest of the public because it would provide the commission “a broader perspective” in selecting a new chief.

Honolulu City Council Ikaika Anderson.

Honolulu City Council member Ikaika Anderson wants the mayor to hire the police chief.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The measure also said changing the commission appointment process would “better ensure” that responses from the commission to inquiries from council members “are adequately addressed in a timely manner.”

Anderson and other council members were frustrated that commissioners did not keep them in the loop when they drew up a $250,000 payout for then-Police Chief Louis Kealoha.

Anderson’s original measure on appointing commissioners was tweaked and is now the same Resolution 17-308 that currently includes additional language calling for the mayor to have authority over the police chief.

Giving the mayor that power, the resolution reads, “would facilitate a more expeditious appointment and removal” of a chief, “foster leadership continuity, and potentially avert issues and delays such as those recently faced” by the commission in appointing a new chief.

Doing The Mayor’s Bidding?

Police Commission Chairwoman Loretta Sheehan opposes Anderson’s resolution, and her views are as sound as Anderson’s are sophomoric.

In written testimony, she deemed it “unjustified,” “ill-advised” and “disruptive” to the commission (she said it would gut it) and said it would “limit the accountability” of the mayor and “politicize and divide” the commission.

“It’s very important to keep law enforcement away from politics,” said Sheehan, because otherwise “the chief of police is more susceptible to having to do the mayor’s bidding.”

This is spot on. So is her contention that requiring a retired HPD command level officer to serve on the commission is unacceptable.

“While experience in law enforcement could be useful” to commission members, she said, “the strength of our City Charter is that the power to hire, fire, and evaluate the Chief of Police lies with the citizens who are free from potential loyalties or grudges with the Honolulu Police Department.”

Loyalties are definitely a concern when it comes to cops and politicians.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell, for example, was endorsed several times by the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and received $11,000 from the union’s political action committee in recent elections. Anderson received $3,250 from SHOPO’s PAC between 2011 and 2013.

Newly elected Honolulu Police Commission Chair Loretta Sheehan.

Honolulu Police Commission Chairwoman Loretta Sheehan disagrees with Anderson’s proposal.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Finally, Sheehan ripped apart Anderson’s push for having a commission with a broad perspective, noting, that the mayor has “historically … appointed persons of differing ages, genders, races, and occupations.”

As for communication problems during the Kealoha payout, Sheehan reminded Anderson that that occurred under former chair Max Sword and that she and commission vice chairman Steve Levinson were now firmly in charge.

“That person is no longer chair, demonstrating that clear lines of responsibility make people accountable,” she wrote. “If I or Commissioner Levinson had known that the Council wished to discuss the severance package, we would have requested that the matter be placed on the agenda for discussion and vote. We would have been happy to come the City Council to explain both the process and the vote.”

Honolulu residents can feel good that its Police Commission is — finally — in such competent hands. The same goes for its police department, run by commission hire Chief Susan Ballard.

Resolution 17-308 is moving through the council and could be scheduled for a vote by the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

It should be rejected. Contact the committee’s chairman, Councilman Ron Menor, at (808) 768-5009 and rmenor@honolulu.gov, or submit testimony online should the resolution be scheduled.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

About the Author