Honolulu’s new police chief has been described as just the right person to heal a department reeling from allegations of deep corruption, abuse of power and general mismanagement.

And while Maj. Susan Ballard, a 32-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department, is just the kind of entrenched HPD insider we’d hoped the Honolulu Police Commission would steer clear of — at least until Ballard and others who had spent long years in the department could be thoroughly vetted — now it’s time to move forward. 

So congratulations, Chief Ballard, we wish you well. We hope your unanimous selection by the Police Commission on Wednesday will usher in a new era of transparency and accountability that can help the public regain confidence in local law enforcement.

But, before we pop the Champagne corks, we’d like to see some sign of the openness and collaboration with the public that Ballard promised soon after the announcement of her promotion.

And as we graciously give you the benefit of the doubt, here’s a few ideas to get you started.

Major Susan Ballard next HPD Chief is hugged by HPD colleagues after the police commission announcement at HPD headquarters.
Maj. Susan Ballard, the next HPD chief, is hugged by colleagues after the Police Commission announcement her selection Wednesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Start with letting the community inside their own police department. Restoring the integrity of HPD requires much more than inviting citizens to its “Coffee With a Cop” program. Transparency is essential to trust.

That means opening up about how and why the department does things. Policies and practices that are regularly discussed publicly in other communities — use of force polices, training officers receive in how to handle mentally ill suspects, domestic violence issues in your own ranks, just for starters — have been off-limits to public disclosure.

That’s been the case for disciplinary actions, too. HPD keeps details of police misconduct secret, unlike any other public agency, state or local. But the public has a deep interest in knowing — and being able to have confidence in — what measures you are taking to make sure those who carry a badge and gun are being held to the highest standards. People don’t care that a cop got in trouble for being late to work. We do care if an officer lies, falsifies a report, beats up a family member, assaults someone or is convicted of a crime.

Let the media help you build better community relations. Toss out that silly report by the Bennet Strategic Communication Group (even though it cost taxpayers $100,000) that painted the press as unprofessional and inept hacks who are really just out to get you. As Civil Beat columnist Denby Fawcett wrote, all you really need to do is tell the truth, directly and honestly.

Transparency is essential to trust.

HPD has many good cops and many good programs, including community policing teams throughout Oahu. Yet the Kealoha administration rejected most attempts to tell the public about the heroes among us and the thoughtful and interesting efforts underway to keep our community safe. Now, the department won’t even let a photographer go on a ride-along, something that is common in most cities.

Establish a working group of officers and reporters, like the state and federal court system’s successful court-media panel that works to address issues of interest to both groups — better access to hearings, for instance, or best practices for cameras in the courtroom. The collaboration has led in recent years to a media day where journalists from throughout the state participate in workshops aimed at better coverage of the courts.

The police department is arguably the most important institution in any community. Our police officers rightly deserve the highest level of respect and cooperation from citizens. The public should indeed have your back.

But that’s hard to do when the evening news and morning headlines are nothing but unfolding tales of corruption, conspiracy and abuse of power.

It’s time to give people a different story to read.

About the Author