The Honolulu Police Commission will have at least 30 candidates to choose from for the next police chief, according to Chairman Max Sword.
At a commission meeting Wednesday, officials announced that so far 25 applicants have met the minimum job requirements to lead the Honolulu Police Department.
Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha retired at the end of February after he was named as a target in an ongoing public corruption probe that includes allegations of abuse of power and civil rights abuses.
The deadline to apply for the job was Monday. But Sword told reporters during a break in the meeting that more applications have been trickling in through the mail.
Sword declined to release any details about who had applied and from where. He said a general breakdown of applicant residencies could be available by next week once all the applications have been evaluated.
The commission does not plan to release any candidate names until a group of finalists has been chosen.
“Put it this way,” Sword said. “You have a candidate that is working in a police department somewhere and his superior finds out that he wants to jump ship, so to speak, and he may not look kindly on that. So to avoid those kinds of things we’re not going to release the names until the final cut.”
It’s not clear when the commission will have a list of finalists to share with the public.
The commission is in the process of hiring a consultant who will help perform background checks and psychological evaluations on applicants. That consultant will also work with a soon-to-be-selected subcommittee made up of citizens who will help grade the applications.
Sword said the subcommittee will include five community members. Each of the seven commissioners can submit two names of potential subcommittee candidates, and the commission will choose the subcommittee from that pool.
Sword said the subcommittee members’ names will remain confidential so as to maintain the integrity of the selection process. He said he doesn’t want any lobbying to take place, but their names will be made public once they score all the applicants.
“I just don’t want to put pressure on them,” Sword said.
He added that he’s not looking for any “high profile” people to be on the subcommittee. Instead, he said he’s hoping the commission selects a cross-section of “regular people” from the community who have direct interactions with HPD.
He made clear that the subcommittee’s only job is to rate the candidates. The commissioners themselves will pick the finalists.
Sword said he hopes to have a new chief in place by July or August.
Also Wednesday, the Police Commission decided to hold a contested case hearing before providing legal counsel for Kealoha and two other officers who were named in a lawsuit related to the ongoing corruption probe.
Gerard Puana sued Kealoha and his wife, Katherine Kealoha, a city prosecutor, along with several other current and former HPD officers, alleging they were involved in a conspiracy to lock him up.
Puana is Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, and says he was framed for stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox so that she could gain the upper hand in a family dispute over money. Those allegations are ultimately what spurred the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into the Kealohas.
The Police Commission approved providing taxpayer-funded legal counsel for HPD Detective Dru Akagi, who was involved in the initial investigation into the stolen mailbox. According to Puana’s lawsuit, Akagi, a homicide detective, was one of several officers who mishandled evidence, falsified reports and failed to properly investigate the case.
The commission wants more information, however, before it decides to approve city-funded defense attorneys for Kealoha, Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and Daniel Sellers. Nguyen and Sellers are accused in the lawsuit of breaking into Puana’s home along with Katherine Kealoha to steal $15,000 in cash and other items.
The commission approved providing legal counsel for Louis Kealoha in a separate matter in which a man died after falling off the H1 freeway.