'A new day': HPD major selected to lead department in crisis

Maj. Susan Ballard: A closer look at Honolulu's next police chief
Published: Oct. 25, 2017 at 6:32 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 26, 2017 at 5:42 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Commission has chosen Maj. Susan Ballard as Honolulu's next police chief.

"This is going to be a difficult job," she said Wednesday afternoon, after the announcement was made. "But I know we can do it. We can do it together."

She's the first woman to lead the Honolulu Police Department and she'll take over a department in crisis — rocked by scandal, struggling to re-gain the public's trust, and facing low morale among the rank-and-file.

"I think she convinced us that her deep desire was to become a healer," said Cha Thompson, vice chairwoman of the commission. "This is a new day. She's going to be a major part of the healing and absolutely, she'll have changes."

Added Commissioner Loretta Sheehan: "Maj. Ballard is exactly what this department needs."

The Honolulu Police Commission unanimously voted to select Ballard on Wednesday afternoon, just hours after wrapping up interviews with finalists.

The chief's salary is $191,184, and the appointment is for a five-year term.

The pick comes as the department is still reeling from the public corruption charges against former Police Chief Louis Kealoha, his deputy prosecutor wife and five current or former officers. Kealoha went on leave in December, and got a $250,000 when he retired the following month.

Kealoha was arrested Friday along with his wife, Katherine, and the two were each released on $100,000 bond.

Ballard's selection comes nearly eight years after Kealoha was sworn in as Honolulu's police chief. His tenure was marked not only by the years-long corruption probe, but by concerns about his handling of domestic violence cases and several incidents of alleged officer wrongdoing.

The new chief is also stepping in as Waikiki, the state's top tourist destination, sees a spate of violent crimes. And while Honolulu is considered one of the nation's safest cities, it's long grappled with a high rate of property crime.

Seven finalists were vying for the chief position. In addition to Ballard, they were:

  • Former federal agent Tommy Aiu;
  • Retired Maj. Kurt Kendro;
  • Retired Pennsylvania State police officer Mark Lomax;
  • Retired HPD acting Chief Paul Putzulu;
  • Retired HPD Assistant Chief Kevin Lima;
  • And Jim Lowrey, assistant chief for the police department in Arlington, Texas.

Earlier this week, finalists chief spot acknowledged the enormity of the challenge.

"Whoever the commission decides to choose to be the next leader will have to heal the department ... show the public that 99.9 percent of everyone at HPD does their job in the most professional and profound way," Aiu told Hawaii News Now.

The Police Commission started interviewing finalists for the position Monday after a bumpy process that included several delays, a commission member's resignation and the commission's chairman, Max Sword, recusing himself because his wife is related to Aiu.

Commission members have acknowledged that the issues spurred concerns about whether a police chief would ultimately be selected by the end of the process. "I was actually really nervous that we weren't going to have a smooth transition," Sheehan said Wednesday.

And despite the new leadership, the cloud over the department is almost certain to persist for years.

Ballard told reporters Wednesday that the allegations against the former police chief and other Honolulu officers have left her disappointed and angry.

"We're going to put it behind us and move forward with integrity, with ethics, and with collaboration with the public and the police department," said the 32-year veteran of HPD.

She added that amid the scandal she's encouraged officers to "just do your job."

While Ballard served under Kealoha, she says she was "marginalized" during his administration.

"I was very vocal of some of the criticisms of some of the things they did," Ballard told Hawaii News Now earlier this week.

Ballard's tenure as chief will be in its infancy when the trial against Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, begins in December.

In a 42-page indictment unsealed Friday, the Kealohas were charged with fraud, making false statements, conspiracy and tampering with witnesses. Additionally, Katherine Kealoha was charged with bank fraud and identity theft.

The two are alleged to be behind a laundry list of schemes, including what prosecutors allege was a bogus theft of the Kealohas' mailbox in June 2013 engineered to frame Gerard Puana, Katherine Kealoha's uncle, with a federal crime.

At the time, the two sides were involved in a bitter family dispute over money.

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