Susan Ballard, a major with three decades of policing experience, will be the new chief of the Honolulu Police Department, the first woman to hold the top job in its 85-year history.
Ballard, 60, was the unanimous choice of the Honolulu Police Commission to guide HPD — the 20th-largest police department in the U.S. — through one of the most tumultuous times in its history.
Ballard was among seven finalists to replace former Chief Louis Kealoha, who retired in February amid a federal investigation into widespread corruption and abuse of power within HPD.
On Friday, Kealoha and his city prosecutor wife, Katherine, were arrested and indicted by federal authorities on 20 counts of criminal conspiracy, fraud and obstruction of justice.
Four current or former HPD officers were also indicted as alleged accomplices, while a fifth officer has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.
Ballard said rebuilding the public’s trust will be the top priority for HPD.
“This is going to be a difficult job. But I know we can do it,” Ballard said shortly after her appointment was announced Wednesday. “We’re going to put it behind us and move forward with integrity, with ethics, and with collaboration with the public and the police department.”
Born in Virginia and raised in North Carolina, Ballard has spent the past 32 years at HPD. She now oversees the Central Receiving Division and was also in charge of the Training, Finance, and Records and Identification divisions, as well as District 4 (Windward Oahu) and District 5 (Kalihi).
“After 32 years, I’ve been around since Moby Dick was a minnow,” Ballard joked.
Upbringing: born in Virginia and raised in North Carolina
HPD history: began her career at HPD in 1985
Currently: the commander of the Central Receiving Division
Previously: oversaw several different divisions (Training, Finance, and Records and Identification) and two districts (District 4 in Windward Oahu and District 5 in Kalihi)
Commissioner Loretta Sheehan said Ballard is “exactly what the department needs.”
“I’m thrilled because the department is getting a person to be in charge who is direct and authentic. Incredibly honest and incredibly competent,” Sheehan said.
Cha Thompson, vice chair of the commission, said she’s convinced that Ballard is “ready to do the job tomorrow.”
“She convinced us that her deep desire was to be a healer and to help overcome the turmoil that the department is in,” Thompson said. “This is a new day. She’s going to be a major part of the healing and, absolutely, she’ll have changes.
“This is going to be held against me, but I think women do that better than men,” Thompson joked, highlighting Ballard’s appointment as Honolulu’s first female police chief.
HPD is made up mostly of men. According to statistics compiled in 2015, the department has more than 200 female officers on a force of nearly 2,000, meaning only one in 10 officers is a woman.
But Ballard played down the significance of her gender.
“I’d like to think that the qualities I have as a leader are gender-neutral. I do believe in supporting more diversity across the board,” Ballard said.
Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz, who has sued HPD a number of times over the years, said Ballard appears to be a good pick, especially now as the department deals with the fallout from the indictment of Kealoha, who was chief from 2009 to 2017.
The Kealohas are accused of orchestrating a scheme in which they worked with their alleged accomplices to frame a family member, Gerard Puana, for the purported theft of a mailbox.
Seitz, who represents Puana in his civil lawsuit against the Kealohas, said he hopes Ballard can help mold the department into a trustworthy organization.
“I’ve only heard good things about her,” Seitz said. “I think having a woman as the police chief is certainly going to affect the culture of the police department in a positive way. And I hope she’s up to the major challenges that this department now faces.”
But HPD’s problems stretch well beyond the Kealoha scandal.
Over the years, HPD has seen several of its officers get into trouble for misconduct — including drug dealing and sexual assault. The department’s response to domestic violence — especially among its own ranks — has also drawn sharp rebukes from lawmakers and others in the community.
With Mayor Kirk Caldwell out of town, acting Mayor Roy Amemiya urged Ballard to move quickly to set HPD on the right course.
“Chief Susan Ballard has a major challenge in restoring public trust in the leadership of the Honolulu Police Department,” Amemiya said in a statement. “Mayor Caldwell and his administration look forward to sitting down with Chief Ballard very soon to discuss the long-term vision for HPD and a way forward in restoring the highest degree of confidence in our police department.”
A date has not been set for Ballard, who has to go through physical and psychological tests, to take over the post. It’s currently filled by Acting Chief Cary Okimoto, who plans to retire at the end of November.
Civil Beat reporter Nick Grube contributed to this report.