It is not particularly surprising that the Honolulu Police Commission nominated a team of “political insiders” to help it select the next police chief.
Each of the seven commissioners have been appointed by the mayor, after all, and each was asked to nominate one or two candidates of his or her personal choosing to serve on the selection committee. People are naturally drawn to those they know, trust and respect so it makes sense that political insiders were drawn to other political insiders.
Frankly, aside from the eyebrow-raising nomination of Beth Chapman (she was nominated by commissioner Max Sword whose wife used to do PR for Chapman), the rest of the nominees are fairly standard. There’s a former mayor, several judges, some lawyers, and businesspeople.
We especially applaud the few nominees who have a background in domestic violence, an area of recurring controversy and problem for the Honolulu Police Department. So overall, you really can’t condemn the police commissioners for their choices.
“All of the commissioners clearly have some kind of personal connection to everybody we nominated,” Commissioner Loretta Sheehan told Civil Beat’s Nick Grube. “That’s going to happen in this town. But that doesn’t mean people should be immediately disqualified for that.”
It’s true: Honolulu is a small town so the circles of influence are especially small and overlapping. But while no single nomination is condemnable, the aggregate represents a problem.
Because the police chief doesn’t just work for, interact with, and need to impress political insiders. He or she works for the rest of us too. And if we’re ever going to repair the broken relationship between the public and HPD, it would help to have buy-in from those communities who have the most at stake.
Grube’s story showed that the list of nominees lacks meaningful representation from Native Hawaiians and Micronesians or advocates for the city’s growing homeless population. These individual communities are affected most by HPD’s policing tactics and deserve a seat at the table in the selection process.
It’s important to note, however, that they deserve to be there not only because the decision affects these communities more tangibly and profoundly than others, but also because diversity of opinion and experience leads to a better outcome for everyone.
As Jonathan Osorio, a professor at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa, put it, “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.”
Police work today is a complicated affair. So many of the daily problems exist in a confusing nexus of social work, immigration issues, mental health, race and cultural differences.
Kevin Davis, the police chief of Baltimore who was hired to help heal the city after the Freddie Gray murder, described the current state of policing as brand new territory.
“The days of zero-tolerance policing are over,” he said last year. “The war on drugs has failed. So police leaders are now tasked with doing something that our forefathers have never been tasked with, and that’s just to holistically and fundamentally change the way we police our communities.”
Honolulu’s rocky relationship with the HPD is nowhere near the level of distrust that Baltimore saw, but after a series of controversies and a very acrimonious break up with our last chief, we are in desperate need of a fresh start.
The issues facing HPD and Honolulu as a whole demand creative problem solving, holistic collaboration, and innovative vision.
That’s a lot to ask for, but it’s an even harder thing to identify ahead of time. Which is why the police commission needs a variety of looking glasses if it has any hope of finding the right match. Go back to the drawing board on this one.
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