As the Honolulu Police Commission embarks on its search for a new police chief, a group of social justice and police reform advocates are asking for a seat at the table.

The activists, who have staged protests against police brutality for several months, are proposing what they call a community advisory committee.

It would help develop test questions for police chief job candidates, assist in reviewing second-round candidates, suggest questions for final interviews, participate in those interviews and recommend finalists, according to the group’s pitch which was submitted as written testimony during Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting. 

“We’ve developed a framework for community participation that takes into account practical considerations to allow diverse perspectives and insight while minimizing any unnecessary distractions or delays in the process,” said Cathy Lee, a member of HPC Task Force, a small volunteer group that monitors commission activities. 

Those who spoke in support of the idea at Wednesday’s meeting include Lesley Gabrielle Harvey, an activist and grant writing professional; Georgia Thompson West, a University of Hawaii graduate student who has participated in recent protests; Carla Allison, a member of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu; and Becky Gardner, a Kaimuki resident and attorney who ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat last year.

“I do support that, and I think it’s wholly consistent and harmonizes with your mission statement which is to help restore public trust and confidence in our police department,” Gardner said. “I very much believe we need police to work, and we need it to work for all of us.”

Cassie Chee and right, Cathy Lee hold signs in opposition to police shootings fronting Honolulu Hale with scores of others.
Cathy Lee, right, protested police violence recently at Honolulu Hale. She wants the community to be involved in the hiring of the next police chief. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

While police commissioners have stated their intention to seek community participation in the hiring process, they haven’t specified exactly how that will happen. Applications for the chief’s position are currently open and due on June 30.

On Wednesday, the commissioners expressed an openness to parts of the proposal.

“It doesn’t seem inconsistent with what we’ve been talking about with the consultant,” Commissioner Richard Parry said of the proposal.

“The consultant we hire would be reaching out to the community and talking to people, which is going to include people like the mayor and various other people. It should also include others, and perhaps it could include this group, or people from this group.”

However, some commissioners said they were not in favor of the idea of receiving a recommendation from non-commissioners on who to hire. 

“I would not be comfortable with that,” Commissioner Michael Broderick said. “But I certainly think this warrants further discussion.”

The city charter states that the Police Commission has the sole authority to make decisions on hiring and firing the police chief, Commissioner Carrie Okinaga noted.

“Sometimes, you can envision that there’s parts that we could incorporate and other points, (we) cannot delegate the authority,” she said.

Okinaga also said she was curious about who was behind the request in the first place. In previous meetings, she has speculated that testifiers are speaking on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which the testifiers have denied.

“Who is asking?” she said.

Ultimately, Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said the idea could be discussed more at a future meeting after commissioners have had time to learn more about it.

The commission is currently taking applications for the chief’s position as well as a consultant who will process and evaluate job candidates.

According to the commission’s request for proposals, due on Tuesday, the consultant will:

  • Identify the key professional and psychological characteristics required for the police chief position;
  • Develop a mechanism to accept public comments;
  • Develop essay questions and review essays;
  • Train approximately five members of an “assessment center.” In the past, this was a group of three civilians and one mainland police chief of the commission’s choosing that interviewed qualified applicants, ranked them and shared findings with the commission;
  • Establish exercises, rating dimensions, rating forms, scoring and other materials for the assessment center;
  • Report to the Honolulu Police Commission on the assessment center results for each candidate within a week of evaluation exercise completion;
  • Write summaries on the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses for the commission and dissemination to the candidates;
  • Coordinate with a psychologist, to be hired by the commission, who will conduct an evaluation of finalists.

The Police Commission has not stated how exactly it will select the members of the assessment center.

According to Alivado, the whole hiring process is expected to take several months.

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