The newly elected president of Hawaii’s police union thinks the search for Honolulu’s next police chief should have ended months ago.

Instead, the Honolulu Police Commission only recently settled on a consulting firm to help narrow down the field of candidates to replace the former police chief, Susan Ballard, who retired in June.

If the commission had “any concern for the police department” it would have selected a new chief within a month or two after Ballard’s departure, said Robert Cavaco, who was sworn in as the new leader of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers on Jan. 1.

“For the last seven months, our department has been on a boat out in the middle of the ocean without a sail,” Cavaco said in a telephone interview. He insisted the criticism was “not a pot shot” at interim Police Chief Rade Vanic’s leadership but said union members “would like to know what direction we’re going in.”

Cavaco, a lieutenant with the Honolulu Police Department’s traffic division and former SHOPO vice president, also denounced the police commission’s decision to hire a consulting firm to assist in the search. That selection process dragged on for six months before the city awarded a $145,777.50 contract to PSI Services last month.

Robert Cavaco
Robert Cavaco, the new president of the state’s police union, said the search for the next Honolulu police chief has left the department in uncertainty. SHOPO

“The police commission is comprised of attorneys and well-educated business CEOs, so you have very bright individuals there who know how to run businesses and organizations,” Cavaco said. “I do not know why they need to hire a consulting firm to make the selection of the chief of police for the department. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Cavaco added that the union does not have any preference on whether the next police chief should come from within the department or from the mainland. “We just want the best candidate,” he said.

The latest update given by the police commission listed 19 candidates for the top job – 12 from Hawaii and seven from the mainland.

However, the city is poised to hear a substantial update from the police commission at its next meeting on Wednesday when the consulting firm is expected to present a timeline for the search, Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said.

Alivado said she had not expected the process for hiring a consultant to take as long as it did.

The last time the city set out to hire a new police chief following Louis Kealoha’s departure in 2017, it took the commission approximately seven months to choose Susan Ballard and a consultant was also hired to assist in the search.

“We did note that, in comparison to Chief Ballard’s search, it took six months for them to bring on the consultant, but I thought we would have had an easier time,” Alivado said.

In response to Cavaco’s comments, Alivado said that she sympathizes with the union and is optimistic that the search will pick up momentum now that the Honolulu Department of Budget and Fiscal Services finalized a deal with PSI Services, which operates in over 160 countries and heralds itself as the “world’s leading career development company.”

“We appreciate their concern because I think the delay has caused everybody angst and concern as to why this hasn’t happened in a quicker fashion,” she said.

“The police commission has been doing everything it can within its parameters to get this moving faster,” she added. “But there are a lot of factors out of our control, and one of those is bringing on the consultant.”

Commissioners previously expressed their frustration at how long the process had been taking in early December.

Moving forward, the consulting agency will collaborate with the police commission to prepare interview questions for applicants and devise a scope of work for the position, both of which will be generated following outreach to SHOPO, other law enforcement groups, nonprofits and other interested parties.

The questions will then be compiled on a written examination administered to all candidates with the intention of whittling the field down to up to 12 candidates, according to commission’s plan.

The remaining candidates will then participate in a two-day assessment consisting of written and oral exercises to further cut down the pool of applicants.

The commission has proposed that all remaining candidates then participate in a public town hall-style meeting before final interviews are conducted by the commissioners and the new chief is selected.

Meanwhile, Alivado said the police commission has been satisfied by the way Vanic has presided over the department.

“I think our confidence in the leadership that Interim Chief Vanic has been able to provide has been optimal,” Alivado said. “The commission has been very pleased with his performance and in his communicating not only to the public, but to the internal members of the department as well.”

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