Thursday
Jan072010

Reform the Process for Selecting our Police Chief

In November, our community was treated to an unfortunate circus relating to the selection of Honolulu’s Chief of Police. Although the end result appears to have worked out fine, the method of selecting the chief was mishandled.

In a democratic and open government, how a decision is made is often as important as what the decision is. A clear, above-board process in deliberating an important decision that affects everyone in a community is essential toward building public trust and confidence. While a dictatorial government can issue decisions by unilateral fiat, our democratic traditions demand that the government decision-making process be clear, open to scrutiny, and without bias.

Although I do not quibble with the decision to select Louis Kealoha, I believe the process that lead to the selection of our next Chief of Police leaves much to be desired. 

Unlike most of the City’s department directors who are selected by the Mayor, the chief of police is hired (and fired) by the Honolulu Police Commission. In this case, the Commission appointed a selection committee to vet and narrow the dozens of applicants for police chief.

This past November, as had been done for the past several decades, the selection committee narrowed the pool of applicants for police chief down to four finalists. This is what had occurred with the selection of Chiefs Douglas Gibb, Michael Nakamura, Lee Donahue and Boisse Correa. In the selection of each of these previous chiefs, the total list of applicants was narrowed and the Police Commission then named the police chief from four finalists.

This year, however, things were changed and this lead to considerable turmoil and confusion. After narrowing the list down to four finalists, two additional applicants were added as finalists for police chief. The addition of these two extra finalists prompted two of the selection committee members to resign in protest.

After making the decision to add two additional finalists, the Police Commission Chair defended her decision as a mere miscommunication. I take the Commission Chair at her word, that this was a simple misunderstanding and no undue political exertions were made.

Nevertheless, to bolster public confidence, the Police Commission should clearly spell out the process for selecting the police chief in the future. The public should not have to endure, and no new police chief should be subjected to, the process that was just completed again.

Transparency and trust in the government process is important for any agency. It is doubly important, however, for the police department. In an open, democratic government, getting it right means more than just making the right decision. It also means the decision-making process itself should also be done right. For the future, it is my hope that the selection process for Chief Kealoha is a lesson well-learned for the next time we select a new police chief.