The Civil Beat Editorial Board Interview: Honolulu Police Commissioners Shannon Alivado And Jerry Gibson - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Editor’s note: The Civil Beat Editorial Board and reporters spoke on Thursday with Shannon Alivado and Jerry Gibson, the chair and vice chair of the Honolulu Police Commission, respectively. The search for a new police chief has now been narrowed down to seven candidates, and Alivado (an executive in government relations) and Gibson (a hotel executive) began by responding to critics who say the search has taken a lot of time. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Gibson: You know, we also kind of thought it’s taken a long time. The last one (Susan Ballard) took eight months. This one will take almost 12. The main thing for us is we didn’t know that Ballard was going to retire. But she gave us some notice. Big thing for us was, “Let’s cover this position right away.” So we did. So when she left on June 1, Rade (Vanic) started as the acting chief. Then the first month for us was saying, “OK, how do we want to do this? You know, there’s a million ways to skin the cat here. Let’s think about how we’re going to pick the next chief.”

So we decided on how we wanted to do it, and we got the criteria from last time — we studied what was right, what was wrong, and we decided on a path forward. That took us the first month.

Honolulu Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado and Vice Chair Jerry Gibson talk to the Civil Beat Editorial Board, April, 28, 2022.
Honolulu Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado and Vice Chair Jerry Gibson spoke to the Civil Beat Editorial Board Thursday. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022

And then something difficult happened. We needed to go through procurement from the city (Department of Budget and Fiscal Services), as you always do. And there’s certain laws with procurement that you need to have three bids on any consultant that you’re going to look at. So we were looking at two groups, one a consultant to help us select the chief, and the second was a psychologist, like we always do. So procurement got involved with us pretty quickly. What our team didn’t realize at the time, is how much they had on their plate with the new (Blangiardi) administration. It was tremendous. Unfortunately, that took seven months.

Until Dec. 15, they finally were able to secure three bids. In the one month — we had this psychologist position and we said, “OK, now we’re on our way.” And that happened at the meeting of Dec. 15.

Alivado: If I could just maybe follow up on a couple of things. So seven months, but we put out the ad on June 1st and we had to extend it because we didn’t get the three (bids) minimum. We had to extend it to a closure date of August, and then once we got the minimum, then we were able to assess. Looking back at the process, that was really the holdup, and maybe it’s something that we intend to study for future selections.

Gibson: And, you know, no excuses. They were on top of it. They were trying to secure locally. It didn’t work out. We ended up getting a group from the mainland. So we get the team on board, we’re into January already and then everything starts happening, all the good things start happening. And here we are now that at the end of the month of May, right around June 1st, we hope that we have a selection for chief.

How well do you feel the department was served having a candidate (who was) interim chief? Vanic was initially looking to go for the job, and then not. Were you at all concerned about the morale of a department with an interim chief?

Alivado: With respect to Chief Vanic, when we approached him, we were just happy he said yes because he had been in every division within the department, we knew that he would have the skill set necessary to just jump right in. And I think what was key was we brought him in as soon as chief Chief Ballard let us know (she was retiring). We named him on May 1, but she wasn’t going to leave until June 1. So we wanted that transition, an overlap, to allow him to, you know, get what he needed from her to move the department forward.

Honolulu Police Department HPD Interim Police Chief Rade Vanic speaks to media about last night's officer involved shooting near Ala Moana.
Honolulu Police Department Interim Chief Rade Vanic opted not to seek the permanent position. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Morale was huge for us because we were coming off of a review from Chief (Ballard) where we had identified some areas where she needed to improve — communication being number one, external, internal. And so I think with (the) interim chief coming in, he understood where we were because he had the review of Chief Ballard right there of what we wanted to see. And so that was a heads up for him walking in and actually accepting, because he could have said no. But he said yes and he was up to the challenge knowing what the department was facing.

On behalf of the commission, the whole commission, I think Rade has done one heck of a job. — Jerry Gibson

So I think that was a sign to us that there was improvement in morale, although I think what was missed or what we were hearing was that they wanted a leader right away. But I think they understood we were going to do our due diligence in making sure the next chief was chosen in a thoughtful process, a fair process, and that we weren’t going to be rushed by pressures of whatever external forces there were and still exist.

Gibson: And I will say, on behalf of the commission, the whole commission, I think Rade has done one heck of a job. He’s communicated with the public well. He’s worked with his troops very well. He, like Shannon said, had been in all major departments. So he knew something of each one, even though he’s only been in 22 years. I think we chose the right one. And I think he’s carried the department well. And that was our No. 1 goal right at the beginning.

I may have a slightly different view. Vanic doesn’t seem like he’s a very good communicator at all to us.

Gibson: Well, this is not to disagree, but within his ranks, he communicates very well up and down, and that’s important. So that’s one form of communication. And then he has been up front with the different things that have gone wrong. So he’s done that. Now, communication with the press and talking to all of you, he may not be as strong as he needs to be — or the last year, anyway — he’s needed to be. And that may be the newness — he got chosen to be the chief and (he) didn’t have probably that kind of background with the press that he should have had at that point.

So what about going forward? What kind of communications with the community, and a lot of that does necessarily take place through the media, what are you expecting from a new chief?

Alivado: Well, that’s one of the primary highlights and characteristics that we’ve been asking for, and I think that has been loud and clear heard through our survey as well — a communicator — not only from the media but also from the public with respect to timeliness and just being a good responder. I would think they need some special training — not only the new candidate that comes in, but we’re making it a point through the assessment center, putting them through an exercise where they would need to have a real-time communication exercise.

Honolulu Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado and Vice Chair Jerry Gibson talk to the Civil Beat Editorial Board, April, 28, 2022.
Alivado and Gibson expressed confidence in the search process for a new HPD chief while acknowledging that it has been lengthy. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022

But I think it might be worth reaching out to this new chief and just providing that venue or the opportunity to learn about what the expectations of the media are. Because I don’t think any of them are going to be expert communicators, especially with the media. But perhaps there’s an opportunity there to teach this new candidate and to tell them what the expectations are. And perhaps it’d be our job to hold that candidate or the successful chief accountable. Because that is part of our job, right? I mean, we do annual evaluations. We can do more than an annual evaluation. But I think what we have made it a priority is that communication internally, of course, is important, but externally, because it’s something of interest for everyone every day.

A number of us have covered police departments in other cities, and it’s just so different here. They usually have a media relations person, usually it’s in their interest to get their position across to the media and then to the community — programs that the police department was working on, or other things they were doing. And you never see that here, they just are so reluctant to talk.

Gibson: And I think you have a very good point there. And we have talked about this. You remember that about six years ago there was a sergeant and she did a lot of the PR for the department. And that was kind of the start of something good. She did it for a while and then she retired, and she was fabulous, I thought. And we need to do that again.

What I liked that Rade did at the beginning was a meeting that he had with the press. I thought regular sessions like that — transparency, how we doing, what’s the public’s perception — I think we need to get back to that. And as Shannon said, that’s something that we can work on.

But, you know, a lot of information, too, honestly, comes from the community, right? And if you don’t have that two-way communication, you’re not getting that. So that can help with crime. That can help with all kinds of things that are going on, if we have that two-way communication — and we don’t right now.

So that’s something that we need to work on. I agree with you.

Back to the search. I was curious — why is a consultant necessary? Why is a psychologist necessary?

Alivado: We wanted to make sure we got the best, and we would be able to reach those interested candidates if they weren’t local. So I think what the consultant brought on was perhaps being able to make that reach nationally, but also provide the guidance that we need. Because I think as a commission we didn’t have the time or the ability to commit to such a detailed process. I think that it would probably be very difficult with respect to getting the written examination and also administering the phase two assessment, which is interacting, getting assessors, training them on what to look for as far as qualities that that chief applicant would need to meet, to meet the criteria and get to the final list.

HPD police officers stage before the Aloha Freedom Coalition march from the Honolulu Zoo in Waikiki on saturday.
HPD has a shortage of about 300 officers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Because that’s basically the goal. We want the finalists, we want the top, and that’s all we want to know about. We don’t want to know who the applicants are. It would get too political. And I think that’s what we were looking for. The consultant being able to be that go between to ensure that the process is fair.

Gibson: I think the political piece is a big thing too. You know, we didn’t want it that way. We wanted it to be vetted on the outside. And whether it’s someone from the mainland or from here, everybody gets a fair deal. The consultant that we hired had the time to do that and had the people to do it. And it’s been very well done.

You said earlier that you decided what was right and what was wrong and then started the path forward. What did you decide was wrong? What have you changed from the last process?

Alivado: As soon as Chief Ballard announced that she was retiring, the public was more interested because we already had heightened activity. Participation on the commission as far as public testimony was elevated even before Chief Ballard announced. So we were already getting a lot of interaction from the public, which is good.

It was almost like a surprise that she was retiring. And these commission meetings (were) a venue to share what they wanted to see in the chief. So I think that the communication and the input from the public is way different from previous chief selections. I can tell you that just from going back in the record.

The other thing we wanted to make sure is that we’re reaching out to groups that were underrepresented, that may have felt over-policed given the (Iremamber) Sykap situation. That was one community that we had heard from, not only from that incident but going forward. So we were able to reach out to one of the groups that were pretty active they’re called (Micronesian Ministers and Leaders) UUT. They’re a faith-based group and they meet pretty much weekly. So we made contact with them and several of the commissioners were able to attend their weekly meetings and just be an open door for them if they felt they trusted sharing information with us. And I think we were able to garner some trust with them.

But I think it needs to be better. It always can improve. And I think chief has made a commitment to increasing recruitment in that community, letting them know that there’s opportunity, job opportunities, that perhaps they may be interested just to bridge that huge gap that we have between not only that community, but Native Hawaiian communities that are to the point of racial disparities. When you look at the statistics, it’s pretty disturbing.

I know the City Council has gotten involved a little bit. (Councilwoman) Esther Kiaaina is all about data and gathering data. So I really like that approach. Data gathering would really help not only addressing the needs of each individual community, but looking at resources that maybe Hawaii is just getting bypassed for.

And if that data and statistics can bring more programs to address what’s happening, not at the tail end where folks are getting arrested, but at the beginning of a lifecycle. Are these folks growing up in in public housing? How can we make sure that that’s corrected? Is it the educational system?

Gibson: It’s kind of a new form of policing — it’s not the old way we used to do things — it’s trending. And that’s something we’ve been very poor at, and we’ve been talking about for at least the last six months or so with the team and how we can get this trending going in the stats, as Shannon was saying. It’s really, really important that we do that, and I think that will help take care of some of these challenges if we do the right trending. And then, of course, take the action behind trending.

What do you mean when you say you’re very interested in the new form of policing?  Do you, as the police commissioners, talk about “Here’s what we really need to do here in Honolulu.” That is, this is a strategy that’s been done elsewhere, and we should bring that here? And then how do you get HPD to do it?

Gibson: Well, keep in mind that we’re learning too all the time, right? In every meeting. And as Shannon said, some of these calls that we were getting starting really in June were teaching us some new things to do. And this one came up all the time, this trending (data collection) that we weren’t doing and how to do things better. And that’s when we really started talking about it and embracing it. You know, the business I’m in, hotel business. We’re trending all the time and we learn from this. And this is how we do our revenue management and everything else. Well, it’s the same thing with police policing. So that’s one thing.

An HPD supporter holds a large flag that reads, “Police Lives Matter’ fronting DIstrict Court.
Supporters of police officers facing charges in an officer-involved shooting demonstrated outside a Honolulu courthouse last year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Do you ever study police practices elsewhere? Or would you bring in an expert or someone just to talk to the commission and say these are the top five things that are being done now?

Gibson: I can tell you, you can’t go to a police commission meeting without at least five or six hours of study. You can’t participate otherwise. We get data like you wouldn’t believe. So if we’re going to speak intelligently or think intelligently at those meetings or get feedback on whatever we’re doing, you’d have to do that work. I don’t have a lot of time to go to the academy or to do that kind of thing. But I read a lot, and I’m sure everybody else does.

Alivado: The Major Cities Chiefs Association is something that the chief attends and he provides us with the report. So that is one resource that we would have access to if we wanted to. He talks about trends, and that’s where he gets all his data because he’s talking to large metropolitan chiefs as well. I don’t think we would be closed to bringing in somebody that would be able to provide, just a comparison to other jurisdictions of same size, same diversity, and just give us some feedback.

Another resource that we have, NACOLE (National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement) is one organization that we’re active in. They have had a lot of webinars that we’ve been able to participate in. They invite us to the national conference, which has been somewhat suspended for the past two years, although they have a virtual which a number of commissioners participate in. So that is a great resource as far as national trends and what we’re looking at in other jurisdictions, as well as police conferences.

I think I heard you say earlier that you were surprised that Susan Ballard left early. Were you that surprised, given the review that she received from you folks?

Alivado: I can personally say I had more faith and I was hoping that she would have stayed. And I just hate to have this conversation because I never really had a conversation to close with her. I didn’t think the review was that bad. It was pointing out areas that needed improvement, and that’s what the commission’s role is, to identify areas that need improvement.

Gibson: I would agree with that 100%. We thought, you know, she’s pretty tough, and we thought that she was going to work through this, take what we gave her constructively. And it was a good 10 points or so things she could improve on. And we thought that she would do this and say, “OK, I’m going to beat this thing. I’m going to show these people that I can do this.” And she didn’t. She decided not to. And I think both of us sort of were surprised.

Regarding a new chief, how do you feel about local versus mainland? How much does that weigh into your considerations?

Alivado: For me, not much. I think on behalf of the commission, we want the best candidate, whether they’re local or from the mainland, what characteristics they bring and how they will lead the department forward, I think is going to be key.

Gibson: I don’t see a lot of difference. Although any time you bring someone here into Hawaii from the mainland, you need to learn, right? You need to learn culturally and respectfully how do you live in Hawaii. I’m not going to pretend if we bring someone in from the mainland that it’s not going to take that person a little bit of time to do so. It’s just a natural thing. And many of us know that. But as far as policing, someone local versus someone from Ohio, I don’t see a big difference there, to be honest with you.

HPD Chief of Police Susan Ballard at the police commission meeting.
Former Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard surprised the commission when she announced her retirement last year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

If the new chief is from the mainland, will they encounter resistance? I wonder if that’s a concern that it may be difficult to instill reforms. 

Alivado: Look at Maui. He’s been in office, what, six months now? He’s shaking things up over there. Whoever the successful candidate is, they’re going to have to lead the troops whatever direction they go. If the troops don’t like it, they would have to leave. I think it’s an opportunity if someone has new ideas, whether they’re local or from the mainland, they’re going to need to step up or get out, basically.

When will we see a new chief?

Gibson: You’ll see a new chief at the end of May.

What will you do if you don’t like any of the candidates? Do you have a plan B in place?

Alivado: Interim Chief Vanic is still there.

Gibson: And he will do it. And I think a good job until we don’t need him to do that anymore. But hopefully we vetted a lot of people and hopefully we have great candidates and hopefully we think they’re great.

Were you disappointed when Chief Vanic pulled out?

Gibson: I was. I thought that he would be a viable candidate. And I thought that over the past year that he’s learned exponentially. And sure there’s some things that if we did an evaluation, that I would sit down and talk to him about. But I think that he’s done quite a job for getting put in the position, having no idea that he was going to be doing it. He’s done quite a job keeping that cohesiveness.

Why did he pull out?

Gibson: We don’t know. I mean, we really wouldn’t have known he was in there unless he said it, right? Because we weren’t looking at candidates. So it wasn’t fair for us to say, “Chief, why are you pulling out?” He basically told our group it’s just personal reasons. He loved what he was doing, but he had some other things that he was doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day he does it again or applies for it.

I think we have the authority that we need. I don’t think we should be running the police department. — Jerry Gibson

According to the latest National Community Survey, less than half of residents rated the police positively — a much lower rating than other jurisdictions across the country. More than half of survey takers reported that the city does a poor job of crime prevention.

Gibson: I didn’t see the survey, but I have trust in HPD. I think we have a good team. I think we have a very good team of executive management. And I think our team on the ground is good. We interact with a lot of the team quite often, particularly the more executive group with our meetings and that kind of stuff. And I, I feel good about the professionalism. I think that we need to do things a little bit different. And I think that there’s some new things that we need to do. I think we need to recruit better. I mean the numbers (a shortage) of 300 people behind. But I think that we do a do a pretty good job. We are the 11th largest in the nation. And I think for that size and scope and with all the challenges we have, I think we do a pretty good job.

Alivado: I have a little different take on it, and I think it’s because of the current climate, probably not only nationally but locally. There’s a lot of issues going on and I think, realistically speaking, there may be some sectors of the community that just don’t have trust in their police, in our police force, and for different reasons. It could be where they live, who they interact with, the type of transportation they take, because they’re the ones interacting with different lenses than us who may have a car.

I personally trust the police force, but I don’t think the entire community (does) and maybe that survey is a clear reflection of that. And that’s something that needs to be highlighted and talked about more, because I think if the department understands that, they need to understand why — why is a community saying they don’t trust us even though we have 900,000, almost a million calls in 2020 to 911 asking for our help. So I think that needs to be balanced or at least looked at, because if they’re calling 911, they know that they can trust whoever is going to respond to their emergency to come out and help, perhaps.

There are proposed charter questions. One would address HPD’s values and the police chief’s qualifications. Voters may also choose whether to change the makeup of the police commission to give the civilian body more power to oversee the department. Those are vague statements and it’s still being negotiated, but any thoughts about essentially strengthening the commission’s oversight?

Alivado: Yeah, could I say we focus only on the one that had a hearing? That’s 22-28 with respect to the makeup and how they’re chosen. So we have a statement on that.

We point out that we are volunteers, that presumably we as city commissioners wouldn’t be impacted by this proposal. But I think what we point out is that aside from these qualities during existing appointment and confirmation processes, each commissioner must demonstrate a commitment of time and willingness to serve the residents of Oahu. Also, each nominee meets with each council member and exchanges perspectives on their work ahead. The conversations include (ones) expressed by community members and the police department. Thus, the proposed characteristics — empathy, integrity and sound judgment — are arguably part of the selection and confirmation process now.

Adding proposed requirements regarding work experience, ironically, might make it more difficult to find qualified volunteers willing to serve on the commission. For example, as the mayor experienced last year, appointing a former HPD officer was not well received by the public. Perhaps the name, characteristics and backgrounds can be identified instead of considerations in the appointment and confirmation of commissioners within an ordinance instead of a charter.

I think what we wanted to capture was that a charter amendment is a huge deal, right? If you’re putting it on the ballot and folks are reacting to it without studying it, without understanding the intricacies or potential unintended consequences — there could be some things that come up that are unintended.

When you hear the words “defund the police,” what does that make you think? And I’m talking about an HPD that spent $150,000 on a robot dog, bought a bunch of ATVs and trucks with some of this federal money. Does HPD have the resources it needs to do its job?

Alivado: I think that those statements can be distinguished from the purchases with respect to the robot, so I’ll take it separately. Defund the police to me means that community can do without police. And I think that’s potentially very scary. We’ve seen increasing crime most recently. I mean, in the last week I’ve seen one in my community, which I’m still questioning what happened. Why is someone getting shot in a parking lot where I do my grocery shopping? These things are real, so if you want to defund the police, are you saying that the beat in my district is going to be taken away, that our public safety, that when folks call for moped noises, for stuff that may seem manini to somebody else but to the grandma (who) was trying to actually maybe sleep, it’s making an impact. Those kind of things make me wonder what the folks that are saying that phrase mean. And so I think I need to understand where they’re coming from.

The Honolulu Police Department used federal pandemic relief money to buy a robot dog similar to this one. Hawaii News Now

With respect to the purchases, that is something that I think even the department is looking at whether that was proper, because those were federal funds that they were trying to see how they expend. And that is part of what Jerry, who leads the permitted interaction group on the budget, has been asking.

Gibson: I think defunding the police has been proven that it’s not a good idea. I’m a little opposite than that. I would like to fill our vacancies — and we have our vacancies budgeted. On the different things that were bought through that fund, all of us were very disappointed and are still looking into this. There were so many things that we could have used well that we didn’t purchase.

For instance, every year you’re purchasing police cars, every year here you’re purchasing the bicycles for downtown and Waikiki. Every year you’re purchasing trikes for the beach and all that stuff. There was a lot of things we really could have used and really got a little bit ahead if we wanted to when we were offered that money. And I know one of the things that we couldn’t do was hold on to the money — it had a drop dead date that we had to use it by. So I’m not criticizing buying some of the capital items that we had the opportunity to do. It’s what we bought.

So would you, as the police commission, like to have more authority over things like that? Because now all you can do is express your disappointment to the chief but you don’t really have a say over whether they buy a robot dog or whatever.

Gibson: I think we have the authority that we need with the chief. And I think that when we are unhappy, he knows we’re unhappy about something, and they know about in this particular case that we weren’t thrilled. So I think we have the authority that we need. I don’t think we should be running the police department, if that’s the question.


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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel and John Hill. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

Gibson: "Now, communication with the press and talking to all of you, he may not be as strong as he needs to be — or the last year, anyway — he’s needed to be."-obviously"And I think you have a very good point there. And we have talked about this..."How long is this guy been on the board? He comes across as an apologist for the police department. I don't think he's qualified to be on the board personally. Transparency should be number one with HPD. That includes Communications with the media.Regarding Ballard, their report and her exit: they both seemed pretty clueless and out of touch with reality to act surprised that she quit.

Scotty_Poppins · 4 months ago

Re the argument in the comments about what "defund the police" means, I think the comparison of Portland with Honolulu is "apples and oranges"; the Oregon situation is rather different. Here, some flagrantly poor choices were made to "spend up" the fed funds (reminds me of the desperate end-of-FY efforts at UH, and probably elsewhere, to expend general funds by stockpiling staplers and printer paper). So which would you rather have: a robot dog and some superfluous ATVs or some trained mental-health interventionists to supplement HPD responses? Or maybe better 911 response time so the perps can't tun away while you're on hold? This interview is helpful, but a lot of questions still hang in the air.

tiredVoter · 4 months ago

I think the two are spin doctors. I think they are wearing blinders. I do not think they have a clue about how the public views the commission, Vanic, or the rest of the department.

lynnematusow · 4 months ago

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