Public safety is paramount


POSTED: Friday, November 20, 2009

Louis M. Kealoha faces a huge challenge as he takes the helm of the Honolulu Police Department, and it has nothing to do with the selection process that got him the job.

By catapulting the highly educated captain over an acting chief and two assistant chiefs more closely associated with retired boss Boisse Correa, the Honolulu Police Commission made a unanimous decision that is immensely popular with rank-and-file officers and the police union.

Kealoha lists improving department morale as among his top objectives, even as the nearly 2,700-employee department undergoes major restructuring due to fiscal constraints.

That admirable desire to collaborate positively with lower-ranked employees must remain secondary to HPD's much larger mission: protecting the nearly 1 million residents and tourists on Oahu each day.

By that most critical measure for any police chief—improving public safety—Correa is seriously underrated, and his five-year tenure holds important lessons for Kealoha. Under Correa's watch, Honolulu achieved its lowest crime rate in 30 years, with declines in both property and violent offense.

Some decisions Correa made did not go over well with the rank-and-file, especially his elimination of a regular 12-hour shift that had allowed officers to work three days a week and pick up side jobs on their days off.

A reversal of the five-day work week would no doubt please HPD, but Kealoha must carefully consider the community effect before undoing that or any other of Correa's decisions. Public safety remains paramount.

The 26-year HPD veteran has big plans for the department, and his ascension to the top post should not be tainted by a controversial selection process.

After a panel advising the Honolulu Police Commission ranked 13 candidates but forwarded only the top four for consideration by the full commission, commission Chairwoman Christine Camp expanded the finalists' pool to the top six, prompting two members of the advisory panel to resign.

Camp denied that a favored candidate was left off the short list, insisting that she simply wanted the full commission to judge as many candidates as feasible, especially given that 13 of the original 36 applicants had passed the written test.

“;Having a broader choice is not a bad thing, especially when making a decision of this magnitude,”; she told the City Council.

Camp lauded all six finalists as “;amazing candidates”; who withstood a grueling selection process under heightened public scrutiny. All earned the scores that landed them in the top six, she said, specifically noting that Assistant Chief Debora Tandal, the sole female contender, had received no special treatment.

Kealoha, who was among the top four, is unfettered as he takes on an ambitious HPD overhaul amid a challenging economy. The average officer looks forward to better morale within the department, as the average citizen expects no decline in Honolulu's quality of life.

We wish the new chief well as he masters this demanding beat.