The Honolulu Police Commission Is About To Make A Big Decision. Don't Rush It - 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.


The City and County of Honolulu is poised to have a new chief of police named as early as Monday. Given the tumultuous last few years at the Honolulu Police Department — and the lengthy process to vet and select applicants to lead HPD — the Honolulu Police Commission is under tremendous pressure to make the right choice.

Opinion article badge

Unlike the Hawaii Board of Education, which had months to evaluate candidates before making its selection of a new superintendent last Thursday, the police commission — not to mention the public at large — has only known the identities of the four chief candidates for a very short time.

That stands in vivid contrast to the year-long undertaking to get to this point, a period that included months to narrow the list of applicants and finalize a $145,000 deal with a search consultant.

As much as everyone involved would like to have closure, it is essential that commissioners take the time to thoroughly examine the background, experience, temperament and statements from the candidates and not make a rush to judgment.

The citizens of Honolulu have been through a rough five years since Louis Kealoha resigned in the wake of a growing corruption scandal that would ultimately send the former chief and his former Honolulu prosecutor wife to prison.

HPD has been led by two temporary chiefs and Susan Ballard, who stepped down a year ago after the police commission determined that she was having trouble adequately leading the department. Ballard, who initially was hailed as a brilliant pick to succeed Kealoha, was faulted for shirking accountability and neglecting to communicate clearly with her own officers and the public.

In the meantime, the fallout from the Kealoha scandal continues. Last month Katherine Kealoha’s brother, Rudolph Puana, was found guilty on federal charges of prescribing opioids to friends. This fall there will be a trial for three former city officials under indictment for sidestepping the City Council on the former chief’s severance package. More indictments are expected as the federal grand jury picks up its pace as the coronavirus pandemic eases.

screen shot on PBS of HPD candidates May 2022
A screen shot from Thursdays’ televised interview of the HPD finalists on PBS Hawaii. 

New data shows an increase in crime on Oahu. A staffing shortage of officers persists as recruitment efforts lag. And morale at HPD, though improved under interim chief Rade Vanic, remains a concern going forward.

Perhaps most important, there is a widespread belief among the public that the Honolulu Police department is corrupt, even after Kealoha’s departure. The decades-long practice of hiding officer misconduct from public scrutiny and Herculean efforts by the police union to keep it that way have added to the department’s reputation for bad behavior. And recent high-profile officer-involved shootings and questions over other practices — a Makaha car crash allegedly cause by officers chasing a group of people leaving a beach party, for instance — haven’t helped.

There are good cops and bad cops everywhere. But the Black Lives Matter movement and the push to defund and demilitarize the police did not arise out of a vacuum.

In spite of the views of some defenders of law enforcement that Oahu is immune from the kinds of problems that have afflicted mainland police forces — that we are somehow special by virtue of our cultures and geography — it’s simply not true.

Police officers are public employees with responsibilities to the people they serve. And at the core of that responsibility is trust, something that comes in no small measure in the ability of HPD and its leaders to communicate clearly, timely and honestly with the public.

To its credit, the police commission did arrange for the special 90-minute live broadcast of “Insights on PBS Hawaii” last week, giving viewers the opportunity to directly hear from Scott Ebner, a retired lieutenant colonel with the New Jersey State Police; Mike Lambert, a current HPD major and head of the training division; Arthur “Joe” Logan, formerly with HPD, the Hawaii National Guard and currently an investigator in the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office; and Ben Moszkowicz, a current HPD major who most recently led the criminal investigation unit but has been on the mainland attending the FBI academy.

The forum gave each candidate a good opportunity to address fundamental questions submitted by the public that generally got to the basics of what we want to know from the next police chief. What would you do improve the department’s performance? How would you address rising crime rates? How would you deal with mental health issues in the ranks and on the streets? How would you fill vacancies and retain good officers? And what about bad officers, misconduct and the perception of corruption?

You can watch the interviews on the PBS website or read our coverage of their answers here.

Now the selection of a new chief is squarely in the hands of the seven-member Honolulu Police Commission which planned to interview the four candidates on Saturday then hold a public meeting on Monday morning. Although the commission has received dozens of written testimonies from the public, it plans to allow more people to speak out at the Monday meeting.

The commission has been widely criticized for the length of time it’s taken to get to this point. Even Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi vowed to take a hand in the process — even though he has no role in it — reflecting the public’s frustration. Now it seems it plans to name the new chief at the end of the meeting on Monday.

But honestly, this is not a decision to rush through and the commission needs to be thoughtful and transparent in making and announcing its selection. That means publicly debating and explaining the reasoning behind the choice as well as releasing the consultant’s report, recommendations and rankings of the finalists.

After all this time, the public deserves to get as much of an inside look as possible at the selection process, particularly involving an agency that many people don’t trust to begin with.


Read this next:

John Pritchett: Scenic View


Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.

Contribute

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)

If I had to vote myself between the four candidates elected, Ben would have my vote. He's affable, seems honest, and I think he would be a good communicator.

Scotty_Poppins · 4 months ago

Seems like the powers that be already know who they will select and the rest is just for show. SHOPO has been behind the scenes, because they definitely haven't been in the public scenes.Also, You should add a link to the PBS forum in the line, "You can watch the interviews on the PBS website ( <----add link here) or read our coverage of their answers here."

Frank_DeGiacomo · 4 months ago

I was disheartened by the broadcast. If this is the cream of the crop we are in trouble. One of the candidates was flippant throughout, kept repeating himself, as droned on as there didn't seem to be any time limits. The other three had good answers and decorum. I have two top favorites, either of whom would do a good job. Depends on whether we want an insider or outsider. What is clear is that the process needs to be reformed, now, so it is in place next time there is an opening. There must be more public input from the get go. Candidates' names must be made public earlier in the process.

lynnematusow · 4 months ago

Join the conversation

About IDEAS

IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.

Mahalo!

You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.