HPD facing more scrutiny for spending $74K to improve image

HPD facing more scrutiny for spending $74K to improve image (10p)
Published: Dec. 21, 2016 at 9:03 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 22, 2016 at 9:21 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Morale was in trouble at the Honolulu Police Department even before embattled Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha went on leave Tuesday amid an ongoing public corruption case, according to documents produced by a public relations firm that HPD hired to improve its image.

In the documents obtained by Hawaii News Now, The Bennet Group concluded that HPD has "suffered reputational damage as the public perception of ethical and behavioral concerns have been brought to the fore" and that there's "a sense of waning morale among the rank-and-file as they continue to see negative portrayals of their profession in public."

HPD hired the public relations firm nine months ago to produce an "integrated communications plan and provide media training to police.

To date, HPD has paid The Bennet Group $74,000 in the past nine months for its advice, and now the police union and media experts are questioning whether that was money well spent given the widening federal investigation involving Kealoha and his wife, a deputy city prosecutor.

"I think the deputy chief yesterday got it right -- it's a bad day," said veteran public relations executive David Wilson. "PR doesn't have a place in this."

Wilson stressed that because of the nature of their work, HPD and its officers have a truly tough job.

But the impact that the chief's fall from grace will now have on HPD seems to make the work of any PR firm nearly impossible.

"There's a saying in public relations -- it goes like this -- you know you're in trouble when your public relations is smelling bad." Wilson said.

Meanwhile, the head of the police officers union also doesn't see the need for expensive PR help.

"So I might not agree that the department has a contract with a PR firm ... but that's a call they have to make," Tenari Maafala told Hawaii News Now.

Maafala added, "Because we're humans behind the badge, we hurt for what the chief and the other officers are going through and again truth will prevail one way or the other."

The Honolulu Police Department confirmed it's still working with the Bennet Group and could use it in the future for crisis management help.

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