Hawaii’s statewide police union has enjoyed a pretty cushy relationship with the highest levels of the Honolulu Police Department, especially under the reign of former Chief Louis Kealoha.

But now comes the good news: Current Chief Susan Ballard isn’t afraid to buck union officials when it comes to dealing with the serious problems she inherited when she took the top cop job four months ago.

The rift between Ballard and the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers exploded publicly this week when SHOPO filed a labor complaint against her.

The complaint contends Ballard violated collective bargaining rights when she reassigned SHOPO boss Tenari Maafala to a midnight patrol beat and transferred three other officers — all coincidentally union leaders — to new jobs as well.

The Hawaii Labor Relations Board will have the final say on SHOPO’s prohibited practices complaint, but in the case of SHOPO v. Ballard, we are in full support of the chief.

Chief Susan Ballard has shown real leadership since taking over HPD late last year. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Yes, we are on record as having urged the Honolulu Police Commission to take more time in its search to replace the disgraced former chief. We suggested that someone from outside HPD might be a better choice to lead the scandal-plagued institution than a 32-year-veteran like Ballard.

But we also cautiously threw our support to Ballard once she was appointed and vowed to clean house and restore public trust. We are delighted to see that she has wasted little time trying to put the department on a more professional footing.

History Of Corruption

One of those actions would appear to be breaking up the good old boy network that supported Kealoha, who is now under federal indictment for conspiracy, obstruction and bank fraud. That network includes Maafala, who was a strong supporter of the former chief.

Maafala and one of the other transferred cops were part of the Peer Support Unit that helps officers through traumatic situations they encounter on the job. Ballard said she transferred Maafala partly because he was in essence taking advantage of his position in the unit, including collecting overtime unnecessarily.

Two other officers who were reassigned were members of the secretive Criminal Investigation Unit that is at the heart of the federal investigation and indictments. The CIU has been exposed as a kind of thug squad for the former chief, and Ballard said months ago she was going to shake it up.

SHOPO President Tenari Maafala stands in the Hawaii State Supreme Court as attorneys present their arguments. 18 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
SHOPO President Tenari Maafala, center, is part of the regime that supported the former HPD chief, Louis Kealoha. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The new chief, in refreshing contrast to Kealoha, has shown she’s willing to make police operations more transparent and to be held accountable to the public. Just last week she called a press conference to announce that four officers had been placed on desk duty for allegedly forcing someone they’d taken into custody to lick a urinal.

Not only did she step forward personally to tell the public what these officers had apparently done, but she turned the case over to the FBI, thus signaling she wants a truly impartial investigation.

Communicating In Public

It’s not the first time Ballard has stepped in front of the cameras to answer questions about situations her officers have gotten involved in.

Two weeks ago she talked directly with the public about an officer-involved shooting in Waipahu. Before that she took the heat when one of her officers struck and killed a man on H-1.

Even when the department under her watch has made missteps — like when it continued to take away the guns of medical marijuana patients — she moved quickly to review the policy.

Clearly, Ballard is trying to do the right thing by the public. So it’s disheartening that she is running into such flak from the union.

And it makes this statement in SHOPO’s labor complaint, well, laughable:

“We sincerely hope that as our new Chief of Police, we can begin our relationship on the right foot and work together to effectively repair HPD’s damaged public image,” the union said.

We’d like that too. And so, apparently, would the public:

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