"After 32 years, I've been around since Moby Dick was a minnow," the 60-year-old joked Wednesday, while speaking to reporters.
She currently serves as the commander for receiving and has previously been in charge of training, the Kaneohe district, the Kalihi district and Finance Division. In 2001, she was promoted to major.
While she'll be Honolulu's first female police chief, she said Wednesday that she doesn't believe her gender plays any role in how she'll lead.
"I like to think that the qualities I have as a leader are gender neutral. I do believe in supporting more diversity across the board," she said.
Honolulu leaders praised Ballard's pick, and urged her to move quickly to try to re-gain the public's trust in a department rocked by scandal.
"Chief Susan Ballard has a major challenge in restoring public trust in the leadership of the Honolulu Police Department," said Acting Mayor Roy Amemiya, in a statement. "Mayor Caldwell and his administration look forward to sitting down with Chief Ballard very soon to discuss the long-term vision for HPD and a way forward in restoring the highest degree of confidence in our police department."
City Council Chairman Ron Menor said her "historic appointment ... will begin a new era of HPD leadership at a time when our city faces an array of public safety issues that require aggressive enforcement driven by collaboration with the community."
Tenari Maafala, president of the police union, said he's "excited" and "happy" with the pick.
"It's about time for the department to move forward," he said. "For the most part, it's great. Like anything else, you're not going to make everybody happy. No one man or woman is greater than what the department represents."
Meanwhile, city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro said he's "glad the process is completed."
"I look forward to working with Chief Ballard," he said, in a statement.
Ballard was the only finalist among seven for the chief position who is currently with the Honolulu Police Department.
She was born in Virginia and moved to Hawaii in 1982 from North Carolina.
Among the groups excited about the new police chief are women's rights advocates, who have been critical of the HPD's record on domestic violence. They're hoping Ballard will change that culture.
It was under Chief Louis Kealoha's watch in 2014 that Sgt. Darren Cachola was not arrested or charged for a fight with his girlfriend in Waipahu. And in 2015, eight officers were accused of physical or sexual assault against a wife or girlfriend. Five were fired.
The department also fell way behind on processing sex assault evidence kits
"I am ecstatic there ... We have been craving new leadership. We haven't seen responsible, appropriate engagement around domestic violence in a long time," said Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center.
The incoming chief is also being praised for not having connections to the upper brass.
"She wasn't part of the power elite or the hierarchy of management. She had been passed over for promotions and she had been critical of the department," said state Sen. Will Espero (D) Ewa Beach.
"Certainly, she's willing to speak her mind and give her opinions. And it's going to important that she's willing to listen to others now that she's in this position."