The police commission chairman said he’s waiting on the FBI, then went on to say there’s nothing to wait for.

The police union president said the public just doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a cop.

The mayor said pretty much nothing at all.

When it comes to the strange case of Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s mailbox, it’s hard to imagine a more disappointing set of responses than those that unfolded last week.

Honolulu Police Commissioner chair Ronald Taketa speaks to media following executive session at HPD headquarters. 17 dec 2014. photograph Cory Lum

Honolulu Police Commission Chairman Ronald Taketa speaks to the news media about Police Chief Louis Kealoha after an executive session Wednesday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Let’s start with the Honolulu Police Commission, charged with watching over the police department, keeping track of the police chief and hearing citizen complaints.

At its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, the commission danced around recent allegations against the chief by publicly listening to his supporters, then going into a closed-door session and re-emerging to announce it intends to do nothing.

Commission Chairman Ron Taketa provided two viewpoints on the matter, and they contradict each other.

First he said his commission was waiting to see if the FBI investigates, as has been requested by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We really have to wait until the authorities complete all of their investigation before we can make a decision,” Taketa told the media.

Then he said there’s really nothing to investigate because “realistically this has nothing to do with (the chief’s) management of the police department. It’s strictly the result of a family dispute that unfortunately has spilled over to the public.”

To recap, a federal public defender accused Chief Kealoha and his prosecutor wife of framing her uncle in a reported theft of their mailbox in retaliation for his lawsuit against her.

Telling people they’re not cops and therefore they have no right to question what cops do will not cut it in 2014, even after Saturday’s tragedy in New York City.

In that suit, Gerard Puana accuses Katherine Kealoha of taking more than $200,000 from him and his 95-year-old grandmother. Some of that money, the suit alleges, went to pay for a $25,000 celebration at the Sheraton Waikiki when the chief got his job.

The suit is still pending, but the criminal case against Puana is not. A mistrial was declared and charges dropped after Chief Kealoha took the witness stand and made an unprompted, inadmissible reference to Puana’s criminal past.

Puana’s lawyer accused the chief of intentionally causing the mistrial because the case was unraveling. Federal public defender Alexander Silvert also claimed that police investigators withheld evidence and falsified reports.

We have no idea if these allegations are true, but they clearly rise above the level of a family dispute. The commission has its own investigative abilities. It also has hiring-firing power when it comes to the police chief.

Imagine if the commission ultimately decides to do its job and look into this matter. Its chairman has already stated publicly that the chief should be in the clear. Think that might discourage people who might otherwise bring their concerns and evidence to the commission?

Some state legislators have already criticized the commission for routinely conducting its supposedly public oversight of the police department behind closed doors. Last week’s performance should strengthen the call for legislation to improve police accountability.

The most strident speaker the commission heard from Wednesday before deciding to do nothing was police union president Tenari Maafala.

Chief Louis Kealoha speaks with SHOPO President Tenari Ma’afala as the commission heads into executive session at the Honolulu Police Departments main station, conference room A.  17 dec 2014. photo Cory Lum

Police Chief Louis Kealoha speaks with police union President Tenari Ma’afala as members of the Honolulu Police Commission head into executive session Wednesday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The head of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers said the union “wholeheartedly” stood behind the police chief and his commanders.

That’s all well and good, but Maafala went on:

“I’m not a fan of perception, I will never ever be, because that’s not reality. Reality is walking in the shoes of a police officer who sees how ugly paradise is with the criminal element out there. People don’t see the things that we see. People don’t go home with the things that we see.”

It’s hard to understand what that pronouncement had to do with the stolen mailbox investigation. Worse, it demonstrated a disturbing tone-deafness to the current debate raging nationwide about the balancing act that is police accountability.

We have no idea if these allegations are true, but they clearly rise above the level of a family dispute.

Telling people they’re not cops and therefore they have no right to question what cops do will not cut it in 2014, even after Saturday’s tragedy in New York City.

When a man randomly murdered two police officers supposedly as payback for the recent choking death of another man as he was being taken into custody, we all got a reminder that officers put their lives on the line every time they don their uniforms.

They deserve our respect and our thanks. They do not deserve special treatment if they are accused of misbehavior.

In Hawaii, that is exactly what they get. In a case brought by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, a judge recently ruled that police officers who are suspended for misconduct have no right to the special exemption in the state’s public records law that prevents the release of their names and details of disciplinary actions.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell gives press conference at Kapolei Hale flanked by left, Honolulu city council member Joey Manahan.  18 dec 2014. photo Cory Lum

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell talks to the media about cost overruns in the rail project, just before he walks away from questions about the police chief.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

That ruling is on hold for now, due to an appeal filed by the police union, which had pushed the Legislature to approve the exemption in the first place.

Speaking to the police commission Wednesday, union president Maafala contended there has “never, ever been a cover-up here.”

The truth is, the cover-up is still written into state law, thanks to the union’s appeal.

At least Maafala and Commission chairman Taketa were talking about the Kealoha situation last week. That’s more than can be said for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who walked away from media inquiries after calling it “a private matter.”

On Monday, the Star-Advertiser reported receiving an e-mail from the mayor in which he stated the police commission “is properly reviewing the situation.”

Caldwell has the authority to appoint members of the commission. He also has control over HPD’s budget, which he can use as leverage or as a means to shape policy.

He’s in a position to lead on the issue of police accountability, but in this case, he’s abrogating his responsibility.

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