The next chief of the Honolulu Police Department will be chosen by a group of volunteer police commissioners who have wide latitude in their recruitment and hiring decisions.

There are few restrictions in the law about who the Honolulu Police Commission can hire and how it selects that person, according to Duane Pang, a lawyer in the city Corporation Counsel’s office who briefed commissioners on Monday.

“All of this process is strictly up to you,” Pang said.

Honolulu Police Commissioner Carrie Okinaga.
Honolulu Police Commissioner Carrie Okinaga will have a hand in hiring the next police chief. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

If commissioners want to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, they may work with the Department of Human Resources to craft a job description and hire a consultant to narrow applicants to a list of finalists, Pang said.

Monday’s meeting was scheduled after Police Chief Susan Ballard announced she would be retiring effective June 1. Her decision followed a tough performance review by the commission, which tried to put her on a performance improvement plan.

“We thought it was important to initiate conversation as to next steps with respect to Chief Ballard’s announcement,” Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said.

Ballard was not present at the meeting.

Most of the commission’s discussion on Monday was conducted behind closed doors in executive session. However, Pang laid out the commission’s options during the public portion.

He said the Departments of Human Resources and Budget and Fiscal Services could help commissioners hire a consultant if they so choose.

Honolulu Corporation Counsel attorney Duane Pang explained the process of hiring a new police chief. Screenshot: Webex, Honolulu Police Commission

Human Resources would post an announcement including minimum qualifications, he said. That includes a city charter requirement that the chief has five years of law enforcement experience, three of which must be in an administrative capacity.

Previously, the job listing has also required a bachelor’s degree and one year of residency in Hawaii, Pang said.

In the past, a consultant helped prepare a written examination, coordinated psychological profile examinations and oversaw an “assessment center” – a group of three civilians and one mainland police chief of the commission’s choosing that interviews all qualified applicants, ranks them and shares its findings with commissioners.

The commission can limit the number of applicants who are interviewed, Pang said, noting in the past that it has been around a dozen.

“It’s your choice, and you will work with the consultant to determine where the cutoff is,” he said.

Commissioners would then interview finalists themselves and make a selection, Pang said. He noted that a medical exam is also required for all city employees and officers.

The last time the commission hired a police chief, the job opened up in March of 2017 with Louis Kealoha’s departure and Ballard started on Nov. 1, Pang said. The last hiring announcement was posted for 20 days, Pang said.

“That’s the kind of period you’re looking at,” he said. “It could be shorter if you want to cut certain things out.”

One of the people with hiring power has yet to be appointed. The commission currently has an open seat.

The Honolulu Police Commission is set to gain a seventh member, although it’s unclear who and when. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat/2021

Mayor Rick Blangiardi had appointed former Honolulu police officer Ben Mahi, but Mahi backed out of the City Council confirmation process last week amid criticism that his background and relationship with a current officer would pose a conflict of interest.

The mayor hasn’t announced a replacement yet, but his pick could have significant influence over the choice of the next chief.

Blangiardi – who, as a candidate, was endorsed by the police union – has stated his desire to have a “very big say” in the hiring process.

“This is a critical hire,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I would want to cast as wide a net as possible, but my preference is to hire from within (the department).”

Once Ballard leaves in June, it’s unclear who will be in charge at HPD.

“In the past, you’d recognize the department’s chain of command,” Pang said. “So, generally, the No. 2 steps in, but you know, that’s always your call.”

That second in command would be Deputy Chief John McCarthy, who sources say has been sidelined by Ballard and has been using paid time off for weeks.

Alivado said on Monday that the commission will explore its options for appointing an interim chief, but members did not mention any names.

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