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When Max Sword first announced the Honolulu Police Commission would form a citizen panel to help select the city’s next police chief he told the press he wanted it be made up of “regular people” instead of the political insiders typically tapped for such tasks.
For Sword that meant nominating Beth Chapman, a reality TV star better known as Mrs. Dog the Bounty Hunter, who made her name in the bail bonds business.
But Chapman’s nomination during last week’s Honolulu Police Commission meeting drew swift reaction — particularly on social media — where many questioned Sword’s wisdom and the integrity of the selection process.
The Honolulu Police Department is the 20th largest in the country, and many believe it’s in need of an overhaul after its last chief, Louis Kealoha, was forced to retire after he was named as a target in a U.S. Justice Department investigation that involves allegations of public corruption and civil rights violations by Kealoha, his wife who is a deputy prosecutor and others in law enforcement.
But while Chapman’s nomination was eyebrow-raising — even more so when considering that Sword’s wife used to do PR for Chapman and her husband, Duane — it also served as a distraction from the other not-so-regular people that the commissioners had recommended for the selection committee.
Moreover, none of the people recommended for the committee are from groups that regularly have encounters and issues with the police — Native Hawaiians, Micronesians, African-Americians, for instance.
“If there is going to be community input into the selection of a police chief, or even into the creation of a police commission, then the people who are policed should be represented,” says Jonathan Osorio, a longtime advocate for Native Hawaiian issues.
Commissioner Cha Thompson recommended former mayor Mufi Hannemann, who many believe was the driving force behind Kealoha’s eventual rise to power. Thompson runs Tihati Productions, a Polynesian cultural entertainment company.
Her colleague Eddie Flores, the CEO of L&L Hawaiian Barbeque, picked Lee Donohue, himself a former HPD police chief. Donohue now works at Securitas Security Services, a private security firm that faced recent scrutiny after a security guard shot and killed a dog at the Honolulu International Airport. The company’s employees have also been accused of other abusive conduct at the airport, including bribery.
As Thompson said of Hannemann: “You either love him or you hate him.”
But Hannemann and Donohue weren’t the only recognizable names on the list of 13 nominees, five of whom will be selected to help choose HPD’s next chief.
Michael Broderick and Peter C.K. Fong have both worked as family court judges. Broderick quit to work for the YMCA of Hawaii while Fong continues to work as an attorney.
Bonny Amemiya is the chief financial officer for a major publishing firm, AIO. She’s also married to Keith Amemiya, a former police commissioner, who is also the campaign finance chair for U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.
Duane Miyashiro, who was just appointed to the Honolulu Liquor Commission, is an attorney who recently founded his own law firm. He’s also served on the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.
C. Scott Wo is a local furniture magnate and aquaponics farm owner. State Rep. Ryan Yamane, who has little experience addressing law enforcement issues in the Legislature is on the list.
In short, it is shaping up to be another blue ribbon panel of well-connected insiders, few of whom would be considered — as Sword put it — “regular people.”
Sword, who last year was re-appointed to the commission by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, initially defended his selection of Chapman, saying she would provide a unique perspective given her background and experience working with local law enforcement.
He’s now reconsidering that decision in light of the public backlash. He also made clear that he didn’t make his selection because of his wife’s prior business relationship with Beth Chapman.
“Each person defines ‘community person’ in their own way,” Sword said. “Everybody has their own interpretation of who is a person from the community, and I have to respect each one of the commissioners’ perspectives on who they feel is from the community.”
Sword pointed out that almost every individual on the selection committee list has a personal relationship with each of the commissioners that chose them.
For instance, Sword’s other recommendation was Yamane, who represents Mililani, Waipio and Waikele. Yamane is the chairman of the House Water and Land Committee and a former chairman of the Transportation Committee.
He’s also a former chairman of the House Tourism and Culture Committee.
Sword works for Outrigger Hotels Hawaii, and is a registered lobbyist for the company.
But he’s not the only one who picked people who are familiar to him and his profession.
Commissioner Steve Levinson, who is a retired Hawaii Supreme Court associate justice, only recommended one candidate for the selection committee. He suggested Broderick, a former family court judge who left that post to become the President and CEO of the YMCA of Hawaii.
Levinson explained to the commission at a meeting last week that he thought Broderick would be a good fit because of his background working for former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who’s largely credited with reshaping the face of that city.
Broderick was a special assistant to the mayor and his direct liaison to the Los Angeles Police Department from 1985 to 1987, just a few years before the infamous beating of Rodney King at the hands of LAPD officers that was caught on tape and sparked widespread rioting.
“There is probably nobody I can think of anywhere whom I trust and respect more than Michael Broderick,” Levinson said. “His judgement is as good as it gets.”
That endorsement was followed up by an emphatic “Hear, hear,” from Thompson, who was clearly impressed by Broderick’s resume.
But there’s still concern that the commissioners aren’t fully considering all community perspectives as they approach the job of picking a new police chief.
While there are former law enforcement officials, business leaders and domestic violence victim advocates on the list, it appears few have much experience representing the individual communities that are affected most by HPD’s policing tactics.
For example, there doesn’t seem to be a strong voice for Native Hawaiians, who are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. There’s also a lack of representation for the city’s growing homeless population.
Jonathan Osorio, a professor at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa, described the selection of a police chief as a “profoundly political affair.”
Honolulu’s police chief is hired and fired by the police commission, which is made up of seven citizens appointed by the mayor. As a result, Osorio said, it should not be surprising that the process for selecting a new chief doesn’t include more community dialogue.
Osorio said it’s important to have the perspective of people from places, such as Kalihi Valley or Palolo, where there have been police tensions in the past.
“You’d want these people on a committee like this because they can provide the kinds of input and perspective that I think would go a long way toward maintaining the high quality of police work in Hawaii,” he said.
Osorio said it’s not always obvious to those in power — or even those involved in community organizations for that matter — that the views of those being policed should be included in any dialogue involving new leadership at HPD.
But he said it’s also up to those groups to speak up when the opportunity arises.
“I would urge all of our community organizations to make more of a claim to this process,” Osorio said. “It isn’t just about power. It really is about policing our community, and it really is about us being safe and for the police work to be done professionally.”
Osorio even suggested a few names that the commissioners might want to consider, including Native Hawaiian activists Lynette Cruz, an assistant professor of anthropology and “kupuna in residence” at Hawaii Pacific University, Laulani Teale, who was arrested while working with the (de)Occupy Honolulu movement, and Kalama Niheu, a medical doctor who also acted as the spokesperson Aha Aloha Aina and for the family of Kollin Elderts, who was shot and killed by a white federal agent who was here for the 2011 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
But while some say the voices of Native Hawaiians are important in any conversation about criminal justice, others worry about the concerns of the growing population of Micronesians, who are the Aloha State’s most recent immigrant group.
“If you want to select a qualified chief and a person who will service the community, the community needs to be part of the selection committee,” said Josie Howard, a local activist who’s originally from Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia.
Howard is the program director for We Are Oceania, a Kalihi nonprofit that’s working to help Micronesians connect with health and human services in Hawaii.
She said that many migrants to the islands have had negative interactions with the police, in part because they might not fully understand the laws and customs here yet or are struggling economically, which could result in them living on the streets.
She said language barriers can also pose problems.
As a result, she said, it’s important to build a solid relationship with law enforcement and have someone in leadership who at least understands the issues.
But she also acknowledges there are other groups that deserve a seat at the table, such as Native Hawaiians, who make a up a disproportionate number of inmates in Hawaii’s jails and mainland prisons.
“It would be good to have a diverse group and a group that is representing Hawaii,” Howard said. “As a community member myself and as somebody who is working for the people, I would wish for the selection commission to be more holistic and to be more inclusive.”
Ken Lawson, who’s an associate faculty member at the University of Hawaii’s Richardson School of Law, echoed Howard’s concerns.
Lawson is the co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, and for years has been monitoring law enforcement and policing in the state, particularly those issues dealing with HPD.
He said the commission’s list of committee nominees has glaring deficiencies when it comes to racial diversity and how it plays out on the streets.
Even though the ethnicity of the individuals on the commission and selection committee is varied, Lawson said that diversity is often looked at as an excuse that’s used to negate the fact that departmental policies and procedures can be inherently racist by disproportionately targeting particular groups, such as Native Hawaiians, blacks or Micronesians.
He said this should be a particular concern given that the allegations that have been levied against Kealoha and other officers in HPD involve serious violations of civil rights.
“If we’re going to be rebuilding a police department that has credibility, then we have to start with putting people on that committee that fairly represent the community, and especially those that are affected by the policing in our community,” Lawson said.
“We have a chance to change our police culture here in Hawaii,” he added. “But if you keep putting the same faces to the same process you’re going to get the same results.
“Then people become police chief not based on what they know, but who they know. And that’s just really unfair to the citizens. It really is.”
The lack of diversity among the selection committee nominees isn’t totally lost on the police commissioners.
In fact, Luella Costales remarked during last week’s meeting that she expected to see more varied backgrounds among the nominees.
One of Costales’ selections was Helena Manzano, who Gov. David Ige had appointed in 2015 as the executive director of the state Office of Language Access.
But when pitching her nominee to her colleagues, Costales focused on Manzano’s background in social work, domestic violence and victims advocacy.
“I feel she would be a really strong contributor to the selection commission,” Costales said.
“First of all, looking at everybody else I feel like she’s the only one who has dealt directly with the community, actually on that level. She has her masters in social work. She’s a graduate of Farrington High. She emigrated from the Philippines when she was in her early teens.”
Costales’ second nominee, Gregory Gilmartin, used to work for the FBI and is the former executive officer of the Honolulu Police Commission. She said Gilmartin would be a good fit because he understands the interactions between the HPD and the commission.
Costales’ viewpoint, however, was in the minority.
Police Commissioner Loretta Sheehan told Civil Beat that many of the people on the list have made significant contributions to the community and have relevant backgrounds in law enforcement and business that can be useful in selecting the next police chief.
She also noted in a small state, such as Hawaii that only has 1.4 million people, it can be difficult to find people who aren’t connected to one another.
“All of the commissioners clearly have some kind of personal connection to everybody we nominated,” Sheehan said. “That’s going to happen in this town. But that doesn’t mean people should be immediately disqualified for that.”
Sheehan’s nominees include Phyllis Horner, an organizational psychologist who specializes in analyzing workplace cultures to modify harmful environments, and Nanci Kreidman, who is the CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center.
Kreidman is a friend of Sheehan’s, and they share the same goal of reforming HPD’s response to domestic violence, particularly when it involves officers as offenders.
Horner, who Sheehan said she doesn’t know as well as Kreidman, is schooled in the logistics of analyzing new hires to make sure an organization is successful. Horner, who works for Servco Pacific, has also been appointed to the Hawaii Judicial Selection Commission.
But while Sheehan defended the integrity of the process, she also said she believes it’s incumbent on the commissioners and the selection committee members not to let their own personal biases get in the way of making the right choice for HPD.
That means considering the views of all outside perspectives when selecting a police chief, she said, from Native Hawaiians to those in the LGBT community.
“We’re really lacking in credibility at this point,” Sheehan said. “We want people who have shown commitment to and investment in the community. Those are the people who should be on the selection committee.”
According to Sword, the police commission will not reveal who the five members of the selection committee are until after they have graded all the applicants.
From there it will be up to the commissioners themselves to select HPD’s next police chief.