In a stinging performance review, the Honolulu Police Commission said on Wednesday that Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard has failed to adequately lead her department by embracing a “culture of blame” in which she shirks accountability and neglects to communicate clearly with officers and the public.  

“The outcome of the evaluation has raised concerns,” Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said in a prepared statement.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard Blangiardi before Mayor Blangiardi’s speech.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard got the toughest review of her career. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The commission is putting Ballard on a performance improvement plan through which it will monitor her progress starting on April 15. It will last for the following 60 days, at which time, there will be another evaluation.

Alivado’s statement contained no positive feedback other than to thank Ballard for her service. It was a stunning reversal of the commission’s prior two evaluations of Ballard, which were overwhelmingly positive.

Alivado said the performance improvement plan is “not meant to diminish Chief Ballard’s authority in any way.” However, a department source told Civil Beat it will not be perceived that way within the department.

In a statement, Ballard said she doesn’t believe the evaluation reflects the views of most officers, HPD staff or the general public.

“While I am disappointed, I always say that there is room for improvement and will assess what is the best way to move forward,” she said. “As Chief, I am ultimately responsible for the department and will continue to hold the command staff and officers accountable for their actions even when it’s unpopular.”

The process of reviewing Ballard’s 2020 performance began in November and included interviews with Ballard, department personnel, nonprofit service providers, external law enforcement agencies and members of the public, Alivado said.

The commission reviewed the chief’s work in seven areas: the city’s five-year plan, leadership, management, budget and fiscal operations, training and development, communications and community relations, and interaction with the police commission itself.

Alivado said the commission found Ballard fell below expectations in leadership and management – two areas that are “crucial to leading the Honolulu Police Department.”

“The commission has concluded that there is poor communication within the department and solutions need to be better articulated throughout command staff and the department,” Alivado said. “And when problems arise, Chief Ballard must take responsibility and avoid laying blame at the feet of individual command staff.”

Review: Officers Have Been Berated And Faced Retaliation

The commission had major problems with Ballard’s leadership performance. They ranked her as “below expectations” when it comes to being an effective, competent and motivated leader who maintains a high degree of morale and encourages suggestions and collaboration.

Ballard has become increasingly isolated. Deputy Chief John McCarthy has been sidelined. Screenshot: Honolulu Police Commission livestream

During the review period, Ballard had a tendency to be dismissive and failed to take responsibility for concerns raised against the department, the review said.

“At times, Chief Ballard did not accept constructive criticism and, within the Department, berated others in front of their peers,” the review states, adding that this impacted morale. “Some were happy, but many felt unfairly treated or retaliated upon.”

Members noted that the chief’s relationships with other law enforcement agencies could be better, and they encouraged her to be more active in advocating for department priorities at the Legislature, Honolulu City Council and other departments.

When it comes to managing the department, Ballard fell below expectations again, according to the review.

It noted that Ballard “tended to blame others” when things got bad. For example, when officers were found to have violated departmental rules about COVID-19 enforcement overtime, Ballard “blamed supervisors and commanders.”

“Anticipating potential issues and mitigating risks in advance of an operation or decision is key to strong management,” the review states.

In the last year, Ballard’s relationship with the media declined and “could be considered failing,” the review found.

“Part of the job of the chief of police is to represent the department before the media even when the report is not always a desired one,” the review states. “The chief needs to be open to repairing working relationships with the media.”

However, the review found Ballard continues to have a “positive relationship with the community.”

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard speaks to media about the recent Ahuimanu shooting death.
Ballard “could be considered failing” when it comes to relationships with the press, the review said. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Regarding interactions with the commission itself, the only metric on which Ballard exceeded expectations was showing up to meetings. She otherwise met most expectations but fell below the commission’s standards regarding providing information to members. The commission noted that its job is to provide oversight to the chief and that sharing information is critically important.

“Despite the nature of the Commission’s duties, the Chief, at times, undervalues the role of the Commission and appears dismissive,” the review states.

The review wasn’t all bad.

It lauded the department’s work running the POST/HONU programs, which provide tents, security and meals to people experiencing homelessness.

Regarding budget and fiscal decisions, the commission said Ballard met or exceeded expectations.

The report makes no mention of the department’s over-budget spending on overtime nor CARES Act expenditures that are now under audit by the U.S. Treasury. However, the commission noted it “welcomes” the audit of overtime proposed by Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters.

The review commended Ballard on being an advocate for training and being resourceful in initiating online courses on “contemporary topics such as implicit bias-based training.” However, the chief was encouraged to find ways to retain veteran officers.

“There also could be more creativity in filling vacancies and retention,” the review states.

Ballard Put On Improvement Plan

The commission is seeking “substantial improvement” in the following areas:

  • Anticipating and mitigating risks in important decisions with the help of her command staff.
  • Taking responsibility for the response of the department when problems arise and ensuring that lessons are learned and shared in a constructive manner.
  • Reporting of crime and case closure statistics to the commission.
  • Management of department overtime.
  • Communication with the media and within the department.

“Take responsibility for the entire police command and not pieces of it,” the review states. “As the leader, the Chief of Police is fully in charge and responsible for anything that happens under her command. When challenges arrive with your management team – do not ostracize them.”

Honolulu Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado and Commissioner Jerry Gibson.
Honolulu Police Commissioners delivered their harshest criticism of Ballard to date. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

To monitor communication progress, the commission will initiate meetings with command staff and HPD personnel once a month in each district.

The commission is also requesting the chief provide a “communication plan” within 30 days. Members are asking Ballard to post a minimum of four vlogs in the next 60 days, hold a bi-monthly news conference inviting all media outlets for 30 minutes and conduct a meeting with the police union board at least once a month.

Ballard is also being required to provide a daily memo to all command staff that includes overtime status and major incidents per district, among other items.

To improve her management of the department, the chief is being asked to have one-on-one meetings with deputy chiefs, assistant chiefs and command staff once a month for the next two months.

She must also prepare an “actionable and creative plan” regarding recruitment and retention of officers to fill vacancies; provide monthly case closure reports to the commission; and develop a system through which all overtime can be viewed by command on a daily basis.

While Ballard was present at the beginning of Wednesday’s commission meeting, members reconfigured their agenda to push her evaluation to the end of the meeting. By the time they got around to it, Ballard was gone.

It’s unfortunate that Chief Ballard is not here this afternoon,” Alivado said. 

Ballard did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from Civil Beat. Alivado said Ballard accepted the evaluation and consented to its public release.

There was no substantive discussion among members about the review, which took less than 10 minutes to summarize.

Before closing out the meeting, commissioners declined all interview requests about the review.

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