Five months into her job as Honolulu Police Chief, Susan Ballard is making one thing clear: the department wants more officers and is going to recruit them — on neighbor islands, on the mainland and at local colleges.
And she’s also willing to look for officers with nontradtional backgrounds, she told members of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii on Sunday during the organization’s annual meeting at the East-West Center’s Jefferson Hall.
Ballard said she also wants to reach out to young people graduating with degrees in fields like social work.
“That’s basically what our job is now, is social work,” she said, but with better pay and benefits. Starting base pay for an officer with a high school diploma is $64,000. Including overtime, a low-level officer makes about $80,000 annually, she said.
With 257 vacancies to fill and about 30 percent of the force’s 2,100 officers eligible for retirement, Ballard said the department faces an uphill battle, but one the chief is taking new steps to fight.
The HPD has taken over administering applications from the City and County of Honolulu, she said. And that’s helped cut the time to bring new recruits on board from a year to six months, she said.
“If you have any kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, if you want to — there’s no age limit as long as you can pass — apply,” she said.
The department is also shortening academy training time for people with prior skills and knowledge, like recent college graduates with criminal justice degrees and officers from other departments. Ballard said she’s tired of losing potential new hires to police forces on the mainland and neighbor islands.
“Sorry, we’re going to start stealing from you,” she said.
“Is it over? Not at all. Because there are going to be more indictments coming up.” — Police Chief Susan Ballard, referring to the ongoing HPD scandal
The comment embodied the spirit of Ballard’s freewheeling and folksy style. With her mild Virginia drawl, the plain-talking 32-year veteran drew repeated laughs and applause.
Ballard described her hiring techniques as part of a push to address what she called top priorities for policing: drugs and homeless people. She said drugs, especially methamphetamine, are the root cause of many offenses.
“Violent crimes, property crimes: the key to that is crystal meth and other types of drugs,” she said.
For the short term, Ballard said, the department plans to take personnel from other areas to reinforce the narcotics division and start doing more proactive policing.
“If the key to property crimes and violent crime is drugs, then why chop off the legs?” she asked. “Let’s chop off the head.”
She called Honolulu’s large population of homeless people a problem with no easy solutions, and one in which the HPD is taking on more responsibility.
Ballard noted the department is about to take over policing Kakaako Waterfront Park, which is state land.
Ballard said officers would soon start removing people from the 40-acre park.
“Monday night we’re going to go out and do the sweeps and stuff,” she said.
Ballard took a hard line on homelessness. She said that there are shelters where people could stay if they chose but that many simply prefer to stay elsewhere.
“Everybody here would love to live on the beach,” she said. “But we can’t, and they can.”
Ballard was equally blunt discussing her predecessor and the corruption charges that have tarnished the HPD. Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha has been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department along with his wife, Katherine, a city prosecutor, on numerous charges, including conspiracy, bank fraud and obstruction.
Four other Honolulu police officers from a special unit picked by the chief were also named as co-conspirators in the indictment. A fifth officer has already pleaded guilty to taking part in the conspiracy. A central allegation is that the officers worked to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for the theft of the couple’s mailbox to help the Kealohas gain the upper hand in a family fight over money.
“We screwed up; the department messed up big time,” Ballard said. “We’re not going to try and hide it. We’re not going to try and say it didn’t happen. It did, but we’re going to move on.
“Is it over? Not at all,” she said. “Because there are going to be more indictments coming up.”
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