Honolulu police chief resigns after critical evaluation

HONOLULU — Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said Friday she would resign and retire effective June 1, just days after she received a critical performance evaluation from the city’s police commission.

“The Honolulu Police Commission has been taking a more active role in the running of the department, and it’s become increasingly clear that I no longer have the trust and support of the police commission and the new mayoral administration,” Ballard said in a video posted on YouTube.

She said this, along with an unspecified “rampant rumor campaign,” had made it “next to impossible” for her to lead the department effectively.

“And so I believe it is in the best interest of the department and the community that I step aside and allow the commission to find someone who will lead the department in the way that they see fit,” Ballard said.

The police commission on Wednesday said Ballard fell below expectations in leadership and management. It highlighted poor communication within the department and called on Ballard to take responsibility when problems arise and not blame individual command staff.

The commission called on the department to improve its reporting of crime and case closure statistics, its management of overtime, and its communication with the media as well as within the department.

Commission Chairperson Shannon Alivado said in a statement that the commission appreciated Ballard’s many efforts, including her initiatives on homelessness and responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he was disappointed by Ballard’s announcement. He said he has been supportive and encouraging of her as chief and didn’t understand her statement that she no longer had his support and trust.

The mayor said he planned to meet with the police commission as soon as possible to discuss what the city needs in a new chief. While it’s up to the commission to make the selection, he said he hoped to have “a very big say.”

“You want a leader with strong communication skills. I need somebody who’s going to be in touch with the times that we’re in,” Blangiardi said at a news conference. He said the new chief will need to be someone who will gain the confidence and trust of the department and the community.

“It’s a very big job,” he said.

Ken Lawson, a professor at the University of Hawaii law school, said Ballard’s resignation right after the evaluation showed she wasn’t willing to change the department for the better.

“So I think it’s a good thing in a sense that if she’s not willing to to make changes that will improve the HPD … and also obviously improve things for the community as it relates to the police, then I think, yes, she needs to go,” Lawson said.

He said it was sad because leaders should be able to take constructive criticism.

Ballard has been police chief for four years and served in the department for a total of 36. She was selected as the first woman chief after her predecessor was ensnared in a federal corruption investigation.

Steve Levinson, a former commission member who helped pick Ballard, said he believed she was the right person for the job at the time.

“I have begun to question her capacity to deal with certain kinds of complex problems,” he said.

He said her departure makes sense “given the number of years she’s been with the department and her age.”

The previous chief, Louis Kealoha, was sentenced in November to seven years in prison for using his position to frame a relative for a crime. His now-estranged wife, Katherine Kealoha, a former high-ranking Honolulu prosecutor, was sentenced to 13 years.

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Associated Press journalist Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this report.

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