The Honolulu Police Commission has extended its search for a consultant who will help vet Honolulu police chief applications because only two consultants have applied for the job so far.

Three bids are required to comply with state procurement law, according to James Yuen, the commission’s executive officer. The application deadline has been extended to July 30 to allow for additional bids, he said. The same has been done for the position of a psychologist who the commission wants to review candidates.

“What I’ve been doing is sending reminder notices to the consultants who have expressed interest to remind them that the 30th deadline is fast approaching, as well as the psychologist,” Yuen said at Wednesday’s commission meeting

Honolulu police commissioners could have more work to do if they are unable to hire help. Screenshot

The consultant will be charged with assessing 24 candidates.

Asked why more consultants are not applying, Commission Chair Shannon Alivado indicated that many consultants don’t want to work with community stakeholders.

“Many of them, and it’s similar to what we’ve heard in past chief selections, is that they want the role of just headhunting that candidate on behalf of the commission, and doing everything, from A to Z,” she said.

“Our process includes the commission having input, includes the public having input. And that is probably the majority of the feedback that we’ve heard already from consultants, both local and mainland.”

She added that some consultants are not familiar with one of the job requirements: training a so-called assessment center. In the past, the assessment center was a group of three civilians and a mainland police chief that interviewed qualified applicants, ranked them and shared findings with commissioners.

If the commission is unable to attract a third bidder for the consultant job, the volunteer commissioners may have to take on the “heavy lifting” of vetting the chief candidates themselves, Alivado said.

The commission will make a decision during a meeting in August, the chair said.

Commission Considering How It Will Accept Public Input

During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners also discussed the merits of utilizing another outside group to aid in its hiring of the police chief: a community advisory committee. The concept was proposed by social justice and police reform advocates last month.

The group’s pitch said the committee could develop questions for job candidates, help review second-round candidates, propose questions for final interviews, participate in those interviews and recommend finalists.

Activists sent a letter to the commission last week providing more detail on the idea. The letter says it is from an informal group called the “Honolulu Police Commission Task Force,” but doesn’t list any individual signatories. Island residents Cathy Lee and Jessica Hernandez have previously identified themselves as members of the group.

Cassie Chee and right, Cathy Lee hold signs in opposition to police shootings fronting Honolulu Hale with scores of others.
Cathy Lee, right, is one of the activists requesting a community advisory committee. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“We are pleading with you to make space at the table,” it states.

Commissioner Michael Broderick said he agreed with several of the task force’s suggestions.

The letter takes issue with the commission’s longstanding makeup of people it describes as “socioeconomically affluent” and argues that other perspectives have been locked out of the process.

Broderick said he agreed with that point.

“I do think that historically excluded constituencies who, sadly, most are not socioeconomically affluent, should participate in the chief selection process,” he said.

To accomplish that, Broderick said he would welcome several of the group’s ideas, including allowing a community advisory committee to help develop test questions for candidates. He would also support community members participating as reviewers in the assessment center, which would work with the consultant to choose finalists, and accepting community member questions for the final round of interviews.

“I can support the community advisory committee playing those three critical roles,” he said. “Once we have our finalists, we can then go wider and invite the general public to provide feedback on the finalists.”

Broderick suggested that the commission solicit applications for spots on the community advisory committee.

However, he said he does not agree with all of the task force’s suggestions, including community advisory committee members interviewing finalists or making recommendations on whom to hire.

Commissioner Richard Parry found merit in the task force’s suggestions but concurred with Broderick. Allowing community members to make recommendations would invite “second-guessing” if the commission goes in another direction.

“It’s our responsibility,” he said. “We need to take that responsibility.”

Commissioner Carrie Okinaga expressed discomfort with taking the task force’s advice given that the group members’ identities are unclear. The letter is unsigned, she noted. A petition purporting to support the formation of the community advisory committee lists only first names, to “protect their identities,” the letter states. 

Plus, she said, the commission is supposed to be soliciting public input anyway.

“At the end of the day, it is our judgment because we’re commissioners,” she said. “And it’s our job to incorporate that input and reflect the considerations of the community.”

Okinaga said she was also concerned about inviting community members into the assessment center, which she said the commission planned to make confidential.

To invite in members of the community definitely compromises that,” she said. 

Ultimately, the commission did not take any action at Wednesday’s meeting on the formation of a community advisory committee. But Alivado said she welcomed continued public input in the chief’s hiring process.

The city is not releasing the names of the 24 applicants, according to Alivado. The commissioners themselves haven’t even seen them yet, she said. Half the applicants are local residents and half of them are nonresidents, Yuen said.

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