Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha went off script at a Sept. 18 press conference to address concerns over a video showing one his officers repeatedly punching his girlfriend at a Waipahu restaurant.

Kealoha was only supposed to talk about the Honolulu Police Department’s domestic violence and family abuse policies, and had no intention of answering questions about Sgt. Darren Cachola, the man in the video who’s currently under investigation.

But midway through the press conference, with cameras rolling, the chief set aside the department’s policies and instead vigorously defended his department’s handling of the Cachola case.

Honolulu Police Chief Kealoha during news conference on September 18, 2014

Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha wants to improve his relationship with the media.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

He also admitted that HPD wasn’t always as transparent as it should be, signaling a potential change toward more openness.

Kealoha has rarely agreed to press interviews. But now, he says, that will change.

“One thing that I learned is that you can’t run from the media,” Kealoha said in a wide-ranging interview with Civil Beat on Friday. “I need to be more transparent, and as a department we need to share more information.”

In essence, he said, HPD needs to do things differently.

There’s no doubt HPD has mishandled its relationship with press, oftentimes blocking access or refusing to provide answers to serious questions, both of which can leave the public guessing as to what is really going on inside the department.

In recent months, the department has been less than forthcoming about officer-involved shootings and police misconduct.

But Kealoha acknowledges the department also stumbles in the day-to-day run of police business, sometimes providing perplexing responses to seemingly simple questions.

Kealoha pointed to a particularly embarrassing  political debate that played out earlier this year when it was revealed that his officers could legally have sex with prostitutes as part of their investigations.

News of this legal loophole circled the globe, playing prominently in major media outlets. HPD became a punchline on late-night television. A local business marquee teased the department while Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert lampooned HPD in a five-minute segment on The Colbert Report.

Initially, the department publicly defended the practice, saying it was an important investigative technique used to bust prostitutes.

But officials also closely guarded how often cops were using the loophole, raising even more questions about the necessity of the policy and whether it was being abused.

It wasn’t until Hawaii lawmakers got involved to change the law that HPD clarified its public statements, saying there was a misunderstanding and that officers were never truly allowed to have sex with prostitutes.

Kealoha said he wants to avoid future gaffs by being more accessible to reporters. All he’s hoping for in return is a “fair shake” and the opportunity to explain the department’s stance on important issues.

“There’s no dark conspiracy here” at HPD to cover up information, Kealoha said. He just doesn’t want reporters unjustly trying to build their careers on the backs of his officers.

And although he’s sometimes advised not to speak out on certain issues — including the Cachola matter — he said he’s willing to change.

“I’m always going to defend my department,” Kealoha said. “But if our department or employees did something wrong I’m going to say it.”

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