Honolulu Police Hire First Female Chief to Lead Troubled Department

In picking Maj. Susan Ballard as the island's new police chief, the Honolulu Police Commission chose someone who's been a commander within the Honolulu Police Department but -- by several accounts including her own -- was outside of the inner circle that flanked now-indicted and retired Chief Louis Kealoha.
by | October 27, 2017 AT 11:10 AM

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

In picking Maj. Susan Ballard as the island's new police chief, the Honolulu Police Commission chose someone who's been a commander within the Honolulu Police Department but -- by several accounts including her own -- was outside of the inner circle that flanked now-indicted and retired Chief Louis Kealoha.

After interviewing the last two of seven finalists Wednesday morning, the four members participating in the selection process wasted little time in picking Ballard as the first female chief of HPD, and appeared to have consensus when they met with media at 2:30 p.m.

Commissioners said they felt confident that Ballard, a 32-year HPD veteran who has been a major in five divisions, will be able to lead the department out of a tumultuous and scandal-plagued period.

Commissioner Loretta Sheehan, who has been critical of Kealoha's leadership since joining the commission in summer 2016, was effusive.

"The department is getting a person to be in charge who is direct, who is authentic, incredibly honest and incredibly competent," Sheehan said. "Sue Ballard is exactly what this department needs ... what the City and County (of Honolulu) needs."

Ballard, 60, must pass physical and psychological examinations before being sworn in.

Commission Vice Chairwoman Cha Thompson, who led the chief search after Commission Chairman Max Sword recused himself due to a conflict of interest earlier this month, said Ballard explained clearly to commissioners how she intended to improve HPD "and make certain things that surfaced in the past will not happen again."

Thompson added: "I think she convinced us that her deep desire was to be a healer and to help overcome the turmoil that the department is in at this time."


Moving past controversy

Ballard said when the news broke last week that Kealoha, his wife, Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, and four other police officers had been indicted involving an alleged conspiracy to frame Katherine Kealoha's uncle for the alleged theft of a mailbox from the Kealohas' yard, she felt disappointment "and anger that that kind of thing could happen."

"It's unfortunate," Ballard said. "We're going to put it behind us and move forward. We're going to move forward with integrity, we're going to move forward with ethics, we're going to move forward with collaboration with the public and the police department."

During the past two years as the federal investigation progressed, "I tried to just move forward and do our job. Where I was assigned, I'd always tell the officers, 'Don't worry about what's going on' and 'We're going to take care of our little corner of the world.'"

Asked what message she had for the roughly 2,000 rank-and-file officers who've endured the criticism against HPD over the past few years, Ballard said: "Just keep coming. Do your job. We're going to do the best that we can. We're here to support you."

In response to a questionnaire from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser earlier this month, Ballard said she was not part of the previous administration and instead was a vocal critic of ethical issues that were occurring.

"The promotion of friends and those who were not competent to take on the positions, changing of award winners, changing of promotional scores as well as high-ranking officers who were sent to the FBI academy when they were going to retire because it was a favor to them, were just some of the issues that I spoke out against and nothing was done," she said.

Two supporters who showed up at the press conference said the commission made the best choice.

"She's got the right attitude, she's got the right qualifications, she's the one who's going to lead us into the future," said Capt. John McCarthy, who described Ballard as a straight-shooter who is highly ethical. "She's totally independent. There's nothing in her past that's going to hurt her. The commission couldn't have made a better choice."

Ballard is also a well-respected and well-liked leader among rank-and-file officers, McCarthy said. "Morale improved 100 percent today with the naming of her as chief."

Maj. Lester Hite pointed out that he and Ballard were among a small few who spoke out against leadership and paid the price.

He noted that Ballard was named a major by retired Chief Lee Donohue in 2001 and was not promoted by either Kealoha or Boisse Correa, Kealoha's predecessor. Like himself, Hite said, Ballard was punished and reassigned frequently.

"But you stick to your convictions," he said. "You do something for the right reasons at the right time, even when nobody's looking. That's what's needed now. You can't question her integrity."

Ballard said she was at a birthday luncheon for a friend when Thompson reached her via telephone about her selection.

Ballard was one of four finalists when Correa was selected in 2004 and also had applied in 2009.

This time around, Ballard was the only one of the seven finalists currently working at HPD. Ballard said Wednesday she thinks that worked in her favor. "Law enforcement changes quickly," she said. "Policies, laws, procedures all change, and once you leave and you're not privy to those changes, it's going to take a while to get back up to speed and, not to mention, knowing the personnel -- their strengths and their weaknesses.

The other finalists were retired federal agent Thomas Aiu, retired HPD Maj. Kurt Kendro, retired Assistant Chief Kevin Lima, retired Pennsylvania State Police Maj. Mark Lomax, current Arlington Police Department Assistant Chief James Lowery Jr. and retired HPD Deputy Chief Paul Putzulu.

The four commissioners interviewed each of the seven finalists for about two hours each between Monday and Wednesday.

There was some concern that a decision could not be made. As a seven-member panel, the Police Commission needs four votes to take any action. But the commission has two vacancies and Sword was forced to recuse himself due to a conflict of interest because his wife, Mona Wood-Sword, is a cousin to Aiu.

That left Thompson, Sheehan, Eddie Flores and Steven Levinson to make the decision Wednesday.

(c)2017 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser