The nomination of Ann Botticelli, former airline executive and journalist, to the Honolulu Police Commission will advance to the full Honolulu City Council next month with the unanimous support Wednesday of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

Botticelli is Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s third nominee for the seat on the commission, which provides oversight of the Honolulu Police Department and will hire the next police chief.  Three months ago, former police officer Benjamin Mahi withdrew his application the day before a City Council meeting. Another former officer, Larry Ignas, backed out after facing public scrutiny for opining to the City Council that racial discrimination in Hawaii doesn’t exist.

“These are very critical times for our Honolulu Police Department and our police commission,” said Heidi Tsuneyoshi, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, adding that much work needs to be done to assure transparency and gain public trust. 

Honolulu Police Commission Meeting. July 2019.
The Honolulu Police Commission, shown here in 2019, discussed how to proceed with the selection of the next Honolulu police chief on Wednesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Honolulu Police Commission consists of seven members who serve five-year terms. They have the power to investigate public complaints against officers, and review rules, regulations and the budget. They also hire the police chief and have the authority to fire the chief.

Commissioners include Shannon L. Alivado, Gerard “Jerry” Gibson, Michael Broderick, Doug Chin, Carrie Okinaga and Richard Parry. 

Of the 58 written comments submitted to the committee, a majority supported Botticelli’s appointment. 

But some testifiers raised concerns Wednesday and at the last City Council meeting that she lacks a criminal justice background, ties to marginalized communities and the ability to question the city’s administration. They also questioned her decision-making at Hawaiian Airlines and the Kamehameha Schools.

Some testifiers criticized her statements about alleged sexual misconduct by a teacher. Botticelli has said that the teacher is a “valued and well-respected member” of Kamehameha Schools

Others questioned her response to racial harassment at Hawaiian Airlines in 2016 when a Black employee found a noose near his locker.

“I was indeed an executive with both of those organizations, ” Botticelli said. “I also had kuleana to explain decisions and actions made by other departments that did not involve me. That was the case in both of those situations.”

Maui resident Keisa Liu urged the committee to put more pressure on Botticelli and build community trust.

“As a public servant, your work is to listen to the needs of the community,” Liu said. “That’s how you build community trust. That’s something you need right now.”

Honolulu City Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina listens to public testimony during city council meeting held at Honolulu Hale.
Honolulu City Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina defended Botticelli. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

City Councilwoman Esther Kiaaina, who supports Botticelli and has known her for over 15 years, took offense at Liu’s comment. 

“Ann is not just a good person,” she said. “She’s the right person.”

Tsuneyoshi asked Botticelli how she will make sure that she takes into account all community voices as a police commissioner.

“What I’ve done in the past is make a determined effort to make sure whatever we do is as inclusive as it can possibly be,” Botticelli said.  

Tsuneyoshi asked how she sees her role at a critical time for the police department and how to assure accountability.

“I think it’s important and it’s incumbent upon bodies of the police commission to take the time to explain not just decisions, but the context behind the decisions,” Botticelli responded. “Or maybe the boundaries that prevent those decisions from being different decisions. Transparency in that way I think is really important.”

What Does The Community Want In A Police Commission?

Margo Fraiser, vice president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, a non-profit police oversight agency, said commissions work better with a mix of those with police backgrounds and civilians.

“I would be concerned if you had a commission that was all law enforcement,” Fraiser said. “In that situation you’ve got to question whether or not it’s the fox watching the henhouse.” 

Testifiers have called for more diversity in the police commission to reflect low-income neighborhoods that often receive more attention from the police. 

“I’m sure Ann Botticelli is nice, but I don’t know what police oversight advocacy work she’s done,” said Cathy Lee, a member of HPC Task Force, a small volunteer group that monitors commission activities.

Referring to Blangiardi’s past nominees, Lee said, “There’s a sense of relief that at least she’s not that bad.”

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