Shortly after Susan Ballard became chief of the Honolulu Police Department, she listed an “increased emphasis” on fighting domestic violence as a major goal in her five-year strategic vision for the department.

Another of her listed goals: “Improve relationships with DV (domestic violence) agencies.”

But nearly one year later, the state’s largest advocacy group assisting victims of family and partner abuse has notified Ballard they will pull out of a collaborative project with HPD on Dec. 31 and return more than $400,000 in government grant money.

That’s because HPD officers failed to make use of the group’s staff when answering domestic violence calls, Nanci Kreidman, chief executive of the Domestic Violence Action Center, wrote in a Sept. 27 letter to Ballard.

In HPD’s five-year strategic plan, dated August 2018, the department lists improving relationships with agencies that work with domestic violence victims. Honolulu Police Department

“After three years, and many efforts to build a strong program that is responsive to the critical needs of survivors on scene of a domestic violence incident, the use of its services don’t warrant its continuation,” wrote Kreidman.

“It is irresponsible for DVAC to accept grants that are funding Program services not meeting its purpose.”

Over nearly 30 years, Kreidman’s group has grown into an assistance clearinghouse for abuse victims needing legal help and counseling. The center has sent advocates to court, campuses and the community to assist anyone with partner or family abuse.

Three years ago, it began the Safe On Scene program with HPD. When officers were called to a domestic violence scene, an advocate from the center would be contacted and meet with victims to provide crisis support and planning at the scene.

While the center has not said exactly how many calls it got over time, the number fell short of projections. “We didn’t receive as many calls as we anticipated,” Kreidman said.

The lackluster HPD participation occurred despite having DVAC staff meet with officers at the beginning of their shifts. Also, the center’s advocates adjusted their on-call schedules after the department said it was better to have them on call in the evenings when police get most of their domestic violence calls.

After several requests to meet with HPD leadership went unanswered, Kreidman said the agency had to make the hard decision this fall to discontinue it and give back grants secured for the program.

The Honolulu Police Department’s downtown headquarters. PF Bentley/Civil Beat/2014

The center has already returned one $229,046 grant from the City and County of Honolulu. And another $170,992 is being returned to the state Attorney General.

“We could not in good faith continue to accept money without delivering the services,” Kreidman said.

The center will continue to have an advocate assist victims who have open cases with HPD’s Criminal Investigation Division but will no longer send advocates to the scene with officers as of Dec. 31.

While HPD could not say how many times their officers contacted DVAC advocates, spokeswoman Michelle Yu wrote that it presented “challenges” for officers.

HPD Chief Susan Ballard during HPD Police Commission meeting.
HPD Chief Susan Ballard promised an “increased emphasis” on domestic violence crimes shortly after she took office. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Sometimes there were communication breakdowns due to SOS staff turnover,” Yu told Civil Beat in an email. “There were also instances when officers received calls for service while waiting for the SOS worker to arrive. Lastly, many victims chose not to meet with an SOS worker even though one was available.”

Yu noted that up to 800 calls to 911 in Honolulu each month are classified as domestic violence calls.

“Five- to six-hundred calls involve non-physical arguments, and roughly 200 calls involve domestic violence-related crimes, such as assault, terroristic threatening and harassment, between persons who are in intimate relationships,” she said. “HPD is committed to supporting victims of domestic violence and abuse.”

Kreidman noted in an email that it’s with “great sadness” that the SOS program won’t be working with the police, but said her agency will remain a resource for HPD.

“It is the nature of partnerships for challenges to arise,” she said . “The communication and the program adjustments in the face of challenges increase the likelihood of program success.”

The Honolulu Police Commission plans to discuss the impasse between the department and DVAC on Wednesday. Commission Chair Loretta Sheehan said she wants to hear HPD’s side of the story before making a statement.

“I have a lot of questions,” she said.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author