It has been months since the Honolulu Police Commission gave a substantive update on the search for the next police chief and Wednesday’s commission meeting brought more of the same.

The list of prospective candidates has remained unchanged for weeks with 19 total candidates — 12 within the state and seven from the mainland — while the city labors on in its search for a consultant to help interview and rank the best candidates.

“I would like to report that we are close to retaining the consultant, which is in the process of being finalized,” James Yuen, the commission’s executive officer, said Wednesday, echoing the updates that he gave during the last three commission meetings.

It has been six months since the initial advertisement for consultant services was posted in June. In comparison, it took six months to secure a consultant during the last chief selection process in 2017.

Honolulu Police Commission
The Honolulu Police Commission expressed frustration at still not having a consultant to help select the next chief of police. Jacob Geanous/Civil Beat/2021

In an attempt to understand reasons behind the delay, the police commission asked for an update from Paula Youngling, central purchasing and contracts administrator at the Honolulu Department of Budget and Fiscal Services purchasing division, the agency tasked with hiring the consultant, during Wednesday’s commission meeting.

Youngling, who had previously handled procurement for HART, said that the city is still negotiating with its top choice for the position, but was unable to provide specifics about the ongoing search when commissioner Jerry Gibson asked what she meant when she said they were “close.”

“I’m really can’t divulge the minutiae of what’s going on in the source selection right now, but we are in evaluation and we’re hoping to reach an award very soon,” Youngling said. “That’s really all I can tell you. There are some things that we’re working very hard toward. There are some things that are a little out of our control right now, but we are working very diligently to get this done very quickly.”

In response, commissioner Doug Chin thanked Youngling for her explanation but said, “It still feels like a really, really long time.”

“Like in other words, this is not a HART contract,” Chin added. “This is not some billion-dollar rail project. This is a much relatively smaller thing and so I think part of our frustration, and the reason why we really wanted to hear from someone from BFS, and really have the public hear from BFS, is because people just don’t understand why negotiations could possibly take so long.”

Youngling said that it was possible, if negotiations could not be completed with the top ranked consultant, that BFS would move onto its second choice and negotiations would start from scratch.

“This is not a HART contract. This is not some billion-dollar rail project.” — Honolulu Police Commissioner Doug Chin

The police commission says it still does not know the names of any of the candidates, and members have expressed frustration at past meetings over how long the process to secure the consultant has taken — a sentiment Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said has been mounting.

“The frustration is something that the commission members are taking to heart, but I personally would like to say that we need to go through these steps to ensure that the process is clear and free of any potential protest issues because that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” Alivado said in an interview with Civil Beat on Thursday.

The commission chair also provided a prospective plan for moving forward, with next steps once the consultant has been brought aboard, including a written exam that will be administered to all potential candidates consisting of a series of five to 10 essay questions.

Their answers will help whittle the field down to the top performing candidates, which is anticipated to be a field of up to 12 candidates, she said.

Phase two, as outlined by the prospective plan, which Alivado emphasized was a draft, would be for the candidates to appear before an “assessment center” made up of individuals tasked with evaluating the applicants through a series of interviews and simulated exercises.

The commission has previously said that each commissioner will propose three people to be considered as assessors and six will ultimately be chosen for the role.

Alivado said one component of the assessment center may include a psychological evaluation and it is unclear how many candidates will advance from phase two, but once the field of applicants is slimmed down by the assessment center, the list of candidates will be made available both to the public and the police commission.

“After the phase two portion has been completed, we would then find out along with the public who the finalists are,” Alivado said. “Before then, the commission would not be apprised who made it through phase one nor who will be sitting for phase two of the assessment center.”

Once the assessment center concludes and the remaining candidates are identified, a town hall-style meeting would be held where the public would be able to interact with the candidates, Alivado said.

The fourth step would be a final round of interviews, which Alivado said may be made public. Then the commission would announce the new chief.

The selection would be in a public, open session, Alivado said.

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