Neal Milner: The Clock Is Already Ticking For New Police And Schools Chiefs - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeHere’s a question that someone should have asked the Hawaii school superintendent and Honolulu police chief finalists:

“You probably will have only three years to do your job before you quit or get fired. What can you accomplish during that time?”

No one asked it because the question seems such a downer — so smart-ass and impertinent.

Too bad. The question isn’t impolite. It’s fundamental.

A big city police chief lasts on average between two-and-a-half and three years, which is half of what it was 20 years go.

On average, a major school superintendent lasts about four years, but half that long in areas with a significant number of poor people or people of color.

So, for both jobs, three years is a realistic number. You might have had mooching mainland relatives who stayed with you longer. Or at least it seemed longer.

Joe Logan, the new Honolulu Police Department chief, must present a five-year plan to the commission. Not enough, Logan says.

“My vision for HPD is for the next 20 years, not just the five years of this term.”

Honolulu Police Commission voted unanimously for Arthur Logan as the next Chief of Police at the Honolulu Police Department..
Incoming HPD Chief Joe Logan told the Honolulu Police Commission he thought in terms of 20 years for making changes. Will he be around for even five? Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Nice. Confident and optimistic. Big thinking. Except there’s a good chance he won’t last even the five years.

Transformation is not the watchword. Good-bye is.

This is not because there are so many bad apple chiefs or incompetent school supers. Both Logan and Keith Hayashi, the new school superintendent, seemed solid choices, though Logan has already run into serious trouble, with the aid of the once again hapless Honolulu Police Commission and that crack team of behavioral scientists hired to maximize transparency, even before he takes office. Logan could be clean as a whistle, but it does not change things as far as the position itself is concerned.

Even some of the best, nationally known police chiefs keep an eye out for a new position because they know that sooner or later the handwriting will be on the wall.

For both a school superintendent and police chief, time — political time or public tolerance time, as opposed to visionary time — runs out in a blink of a leader’s eye.

So, the timeframe is narrow. At the same time, the challenges are greater because of Covid-19.

Let’s focus on two of these Covid challenges — the frightening decline of student competence and the sudden uptick in violent crime.

Crime and test scores are of course constant issues, but the pandemic makes them more unprecedented than typical. Old remedies may not work.

Pandemic Crime

What reduces crime? That’s always complicated and unclear. It’s still not clear why crime rates dropped so precipitously a few years ago.

We know interventions that reduce crime under some circumstances.

Up to a point, adding more police officers reduces crime, but that also has the effect of targeting more people of color.

Certain data-based targeting strategies have worked in some places. So has focusing on hardcore offenders. In Honolulu, the Weed and Seed program seemed to have some positive effect.

Overall, though, it depends. Covid makes this even more complicated because the crime spike is such a dramatic turnaround and because when it comes to crime-fighting, pandemic crime may have a different dynamic.

The research about the link between crime and the pandemic stresses how much variation there is depending on the groups involved as well as the context. Good to know, but cold comfort to a chief who must decide what to do.

The pandemic has made police work more stressful. Officers have left as a result. This has been a problem in Honolulu for many years. It’s a worldwide problem now.

Sure, go ahead, try any or all of the usual interventions, but keep in mind how hard it is to recruit cops and how uncertain these crime-fighting strategies are in reducing crime.

These Covid-crime strategies are not really plans. They are tryouts, as they should be under the circumstance Covid has created.

The problem for a police chief is that tryouts are experimental and incremental while the public wants The Truth. Now.

Pandemic Schools

To stem the decline in math and reading scores, educators here and elsewhere are planning to rely on tested interventions like summer programs and intensive tutoring. Tested yes, but not tested in a pandemic.

The best we can say is that these might work, but they might not. This sounds like the police chief and crime. You bet.

Education specialists at the Brookings Institution have tried to deal with this problem by looking at studies of the effectiveness of the usual interventions in other situations to see how close the improvements come to what’s needed to get students hurt by the pandemic back on track.

Promising but mixed results. Intensive tutoring comes the closest to the amount of improvement necessary to overcome the Covid deficit. Class size does not matter. Summer programs help a little but not so much.

Nothing new about that. Education intervention results are hardly ever hugely definitive. That’s life. But the Covid scores situation is different because the size of the problem is now of another magnitude entirely.

It’s not just declining test scores. There has been a large increase in the number of students who no longer regularly attend school at all.

Take tutoring, the most promising of the interventions. It’s one thing to find a few tutors for a relatively few kids needing help — a couple of children in the class have trouble reading, a few more with math, one or two may be chronically absent.

Unfortunately, that’s business as usual, not Covid. It’s entirely something else to find a huge number of competent tutors for a huge number of kids. Staffing is a serious issue. The wider the net, the more likely incompetent people will get hired and the more likely that the programs won’t be implemented with any consistency.

Well, tough cookies, you say. That’s what we pay these big shots the big bucks for. If they can’t cut it, well, next person up.

Kaneohe Elementary School summer school student raises her hand in class during COVID-19 pandemic. June 12, 2020
Tutors might work for students who lost ground during Covid. But are there enough to go around? Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The two-plus years of Covid have ratcheted up these feelings. More anger, more fear, more expectations a Great Leader will make things right again.

As if their jobs weren’t hard enough already, police chiefs and school superintendents have become victims of what the recent Oxford commencement speaker called “a dramatic moral universe: one where you feel you must be constantly sorting people into unredeemable villains or unimpeachable saints.”

This is us. I am tired of the drama, the blame games, coarseness and fantasies about quick fixes.

I’m not saying you should feel sorry for Hayashi and Logan. I am saying that you need to redirect your attention away from “it’s your fault,” move toward accepting the inherent limits of what they can do. Recognize what else needs to be done by others and yourself.

Because the problems we are demanding that school or police officials solve go far beyond cops or teachers.

Under the circumstance, I can’t help adding this: The Brookings article I mentioned includes a picture of children in a classroom. They look about 9 or 10 years old.

The same age as the children murdered last week in Uvalde.

The same age as my granddaughter in Portland.

The same age as hundreds of school kids in Hawaii.

So much Uvalde coverage has put the school superintendent and especially the district’s police chief front and center.

Don’t get me wrong. What the Uvalde school police chief did — or rather didn’t do — was beyond terrible.

But so much about mass shooting in America goes well beyond schools and cops. That part falls on — I cringe even saying this — our politicians to do something. And of course, on ourselves.

Read this next:

'We Are Never Caught Up': Hawaii's Aging Schools Need A Facelift

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About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

Regarding just the superintendent, it simply reinforces the need for smaller, independent school districts with principals or district supervisors tasked to handle repairs and more importantly educational goals and programs. The state DOE has failed us, not necessarily because of poor leadership, but because it is an outdated concept and organization. Too big, too many moving parts for one person to competently handle. At least divvy it up by island and maybe on Oahu by district so that it is manageable and results can be customized to the kids needs.

wailani1961 · 1 year ago

The selection of these 2 people should be accepted and move on! The head of HPD has no say in what happens to an adult child in the court of law. Let him be charged and got thru the system and if found guilty, do the time! As for the Head of Schools, its time to let him run with it and get the Job done right! They were chosen correctly and now to prove that they are the right person. Too much what about this and what about that!

Richard · 1 year ago

Neal and CB thank you for your awesome commentary on this issue, I want to start by saying the Selection board for the School Chiefs and HPD Chief of Police, is one of the biggest jokes since Beetle Baily in the Sunday Comics ! They only look for the right person for the vacancy when the candidates pressure the committee to get moving on the selection side of picking. Fire the Committee board, bring in a panel of people that actually know what the Department needs or desires, Not because " Uncle Joe's son" wants the position and therefore preselection is made, no background check on the entire family of the selected person and you end up delaying putting the right person in the position

unclebob61 · 1 year ago

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