After low marks in annual review, HPD chief given 60 days to make improvements

Updated: Apr. 8, 2021 at 11:37 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Commission raised a host of concerns about Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard’s performance in her latest review on Wednesday, giving her “below expectations” in two key areas: Management of administration and leadership.

They also said a “culture of blame” had developed at the agency under her watch. Ballard didn’t stay around while commissioners briefed the public on the evaluation.

“The outcome of the evaluation has raised serious concerns,” said Police Commission Chair Shannon Alivado, reading a statement from the entire body.

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“We can appreciate that during a full year there were strategies to achieve certain results but it appears the implementation and execution were flawed.”

The commission put together a “performance improvement plan” that the police chief must take action on within 60 days, when her next evaluation is conducted.

“There’s a lot that needs to change in a short amount of time,” said Ken Lawson, criminal law and evidence instructor at the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law.

“But the list is something that is common in most police departments. Really what they’re saying is, just do your job, and you should be able to do your job in 60 days.”

The commission said one area of particular concern is poor communication in the department. The body also said the chief should work more closely with her command staff when problems arise, improve reporting of crime statistics and bolster communication with the media and public.

Tommy Aiu, former federal agent, said HPD is one of the largest police departments in the nation so it’s vital that it be transparent with the media as a means to communicate with the public.

“To be an effective law enforcement agency, you need to have rapport with the community and the best way to do that is through transparency and collaboration with the media,” Aiu said, adding, “being proactive and providing information to the public because that’s the best way they’re going to get that information to make the community feel safe.”

Aiu said Ballard received high marks during her first two years and was effective in fixing the issues of the previous administration. But the coronavirus pandemic was the true test of her leadership.

“I think the pandemic presented a multitude of problems and issues for the department and community, but that’s again a test of a true leader and management, to step up, to take responsibility for things, and implement proactive programs to anticipate problems,” he said. “That tells whether or not the person has the innate qualities to be the actual leader of the department or an agency.”

In a statement, Ballard said she was disappointed with the review and did not think it “reflects the view of the general public” or “most officers and professional staff.”

“While I am disappointed, I always say that there is room for improvement and will assess what is the best way to move forward,” she said.

“As Chief, I am ultimately responsible for the department and will continue to hold the command staff and officers accountable for their actions even when it’s unpopular.

Ballard has faced growing questions about her leadership, with police watchdogs says she hasn’t done enough to improve transparency at the department or bolster morale.

“She has a lot of improvement to do,” Lawson said. “I don’t mean this in a negative way. It has to be in a constructive way. We want our police department to be better.”

Joshua Wisch, executive director of ACLU Hawaii, said while the evaluation addressed some important issues, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“The chief has been in a position to be a change agent and make some changes there, but she keeps missing those opportunities,” Wisch said.

“It’s great to see that the commission is holding her to account, but there are other things like the massive disparities in use of force based on race, the massive disparities in COVID arrests and citations based on race that are happening under Chief Ballard’s leadership, and those things weren’t addressed in the evaluation.”

She’s also facing heat for the agency’s federal CARES Act spending, which is under review.

This story will be updated.

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