By: Lokelani Wilder
On April 9, 2021, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard announced she will be resigning from her post on June 1, 2021. Chief Ballard rationalized her decision saying that she no longer has the support of the police commission and the Mayor and is the subject of a rampant rumor campaign. She did not elaborate on the rumor campaign except saying only that it has become next to impossible to lead the department. Ballard informed some of her colleagues of her decision earlier in the day but bizarrely did not reach out to the Mayor or the police commission before her announcement.
The Chief’s stunning news comes just days after the police commission gave her low marks for leadership and management in her annual review. The commission gave her a performance plan that required sweeping changes. After receiving the review and the plan, Ballard said that she believes it is in the best interests of the department and the community that she steps aside and allow the commission to find someone who will lead the department the way they see fit.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi pushed back against Ballard’s statement saying he hadn’t lost confidence in her and has done nothing but support the Chief. He added that he would not look back at the reasons for the resignation but would instead look forward to working with the police commission to determine next steps. Although acknowledging that the commission will select the next chief, the Mayor said he wants a big say in who the next Chief will ultimately be. Police union President Malcolm Lutu called the news of Ballard’s departure shocking and sad. The Police Union President said that Chief Ballard put the department and union on the right path when negotiations were going on and that she knew her police officers’ needs. Lutu added that he hoped Ballard’s resignation did not have anything to do with her police commission’s evaluation.
Ballard previously received high marks during her first two years and was effective in fixing the issues of the previous administration. The Coronavirus pandemic is initially being pointed at as the true test of Ballard’s leadership and suggests that she did not rise to the occasion. The police commission raised a host of concerns about Ballard’s performance in her latest review and gave her below expectations in two key areas: management of administration and leadership. The review described a culture of blame having developed in the department while under the Chief’s tenure. The commission said one area of particular concern is poor communication in the department and recommended that the Chief work more closely with her command staff when problems arise. The commission advised improving the reporting of crime statistics department’s transparency and bolstering communication with the media and public. Outside the poor performance review, the Chief is also facing scrutiny for the department’s federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act spending with some questionable purchases being now under review. Additionally, other things were not addressed in the evaluation such as: reported disparities in use of force based on race and the disparities in Coronavirus arrests and citations based on race.
The Honolulu Police Department is one of the largest police departments in the United States. Chief Ballard has served in the department for 36 years. She joined the Honolulu Police Department in 1985, three years after moving to the islands from North Carolina. She was only a major when selected as police chief in 2017 but was widely praised when she was selected for a five-year term to run the department as its first female police chief. Ballard took over a police department that had been rocked by scandal and had lost the public’s trust. Her predecessor, Louis Kealoha, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in one of the largest public corruption scandals in the state’s history.
There are probably several issues in play which lead to the Chief’s self removal. The first is likely ego on her part. When the police commission was holding the press conference announcing the Chief’s poor performance review, the Chief left and did not stay until its end. There is a perceived lack of department transparency with the public and media and a culture of blame coming reportedly now commonplace in the department. Culture of blame and withholding information are natural, involuntary defense mechanisms when a person or an organization are being criticized. There is probably also a measure of insulted personal pride. The Chief was hired to clean up a department rocked by scandals, but recently her own integrity came into question over CARES Act purchases and disproportional uses of force, arrests, and citations connected with specific races. The Chief is 64-years old and has served for 36 years. Any tenured servant who has eaten that much dust and dirt while walking a beat, would be insulted.
I also believe there was ego on the part of others inside the department. The Chief was selected over more her more senior colleagues. One of the findings was her unwillingness to use her command staff when problems arise. This finding suggests that the Chief dealt with senior department officers who still bore grudges toward her selection. Like Ballard, these officials are also long standing and likely connected to the politicians and the police commission. Honestly, more of these people than we can imagine are themselves corrupt and are hiding it from the general public. They liked the days when there wasn’t a police chief chosen to clean up corruption and they took the opportunities of having a new Mayor and new city administration and the pandemic to remove Ballard. The timeliness of the unexpected poor review and the Chief’s resignation is also telling for another reason. The state is going to receive upwards of $6.1 billion from the American Rescue Plan. If the Biden Infrastructure Proposal also passes, Hawaii probably stands to gain another $6 billion. $12 billion is simply too much money to risk with an anti-corruption police chief still at the helm. Corruption politicians and officials moved Ballard to have easier access to $12 billion dollars.
Finally, as much as the Democrats like to play the race cards to advance and consolidate their political power, they simply could not stomach having a white woman, non-Hawaiian in such a position of authority. They pushed Chief’s buttons of ego and pride enough for her to remove herself because she is not one of us. This reason is tragically the saddest of all. When Chief Ballard moved to Hawaii, she was 25 years old. She was not born here and did not grow up here. She joined the Honolulu Police Department at age 28. She is now 64 years old; having served for the last 36 years. She started from the ground up as a cop. In the performance of her civic duties to this public, she has placed her life in jeopardy countless times. She has already endured and will continue to long endure past her retirement, the horrific pains and regrets associated with sacrifice and loss encountered throughout long public service. Through her long service and unwavering dedication, Susan Ballard is now arguably more Hawaiian than are most of the people who will ever be born here, but she possibly stood in the way of billions of dollars and simply had to be removed.