Debora Tandal


POSTED: Friday, November 27, 2009

The woman who became a lightning rod during the search for a new Honolulu Police Department police chief expresses no bitterness about the process that first left her off the short list of finalists and then exposed her to criticism by putting her (and a male candidate) back in the running for the job.

But HPD Assistant Chief Debora A. Tandal does raise questions about the consultant hired to facilitate the selection process and offers insight and encouragement to anyone, especially women, striving to succeed in law enforcement. In Honolulu, only about 10 percent of the nearly 2,000 police officers are women.

Tandal, 50, commands HPD's Support Services Bureau, having risen through the ranks of the department she joined in 1979 as a police cadet right out of college.

She grew up on Kauai, finishing high school in three years and moving to Oahu to complete her college degree; she received her bachelor's in justice management from Chaminade University at age 19 and later earned a master's degree from the University of Phoenix.

“;I always wanted to be in the police department, from the age of 10 or 11. Everything I did, pretty much, was toward that goal,”; Tandal said this week. “;I did ride-alongs, took first-aid classes, graduated from high school early, took night school classes at the community college. It was just something I always wanted.”;

Tandal, who has lived in Waianae for 29 years, is active in St. Philip's Church and enjoys participating in Toastmasters International, a group that helps members develop communication and leadership skills.

She and husband Randolph Tandal, a retired police officer, have been married 29 years and have three grown children; a 24-year-old daughter and twin 18-year-old sons.

QUESTION: How do you feel about the selection process?

ANSWER: I felt that it was a fair process.

Q: How have you dealt with challenges through the years, rising through the ranks to be a commander in a male-dominated profession?

A: At every rank, I've just done the job that was assigned to me, and done the best I could at it. Regardless of whether you are male or female, just do the best job that you are capable of doing.

Q: How do you think your gender has helped and/or hindered you throughout the years in HPD?

A: There's always situations where your temperament or your ability to work with people helps. ... For the most part I think it's your personality, not your gender, that's important in how you handle things.

Q: Did you ever experience sexism?

A: There were times when I did feel that being a female was not to my advantage.

Q: Like when?

A: Mostly in perception. You take the exact same civil service test that everybody else takes, yet it's the one female who will be singled out and people will say that the only reason they got promoted was because of their gender.

Q: How did you handle that?

A: Just continue with your hard work and don't let it bother you. Just know that you are doing the best you can, that you deserve to be there because of the work that you're doing, the scores you're getting. Don't get discouraged.

Q: Are you the first woman to make it to the final round of the police chief selection?

A: No. My understanding is that there were two females who have been considered before: Susan Ballard and Donna Anderson.

Q: Were you told at the time why you and Assistant Chief Delbert Tatsuyama were added after the other four finalists?

A: No, we weren't told. We were just called and asked to continue on with the psychological portion of the assessment.

Q: Where do you think the rumor started, that the mayor wanted a woman chief for political reasons? That rumor didn't make a lot of sense to me, frankly, given that the police union was backing somebody else.

A: I have no idea where the rumor came from.

Q: Do you think it hurt you?

A: I don't think any of the rumors helped.

Q: Was there any truth to those rumors? Do you have any ties to the mayor?

A: No, I have no political ambitions or ties to anybody. I am not a political person. I believe it is very important for everyone associated with HPD to be nonpolitical, so there can be no accusation of favoritism, especially in investigations.

Q: What does the future hold for you at HPD?

A: I'm still an assistant chief. I enjoy my job. I'm not retiring. Depending on what the next chief has planned will determine whether I stay in my current assignment or whether I change to a different bureau.

Q: Do you see yourself as a role model for younger women joining the department?

A: I think every woman in the police department is a role model. For that matter, I think every police officer, male or female, is a role model. I've really enjoyed my career in the police department. What can I say? Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I've definitely faced challenges over the years. But every one of them has been worth the experience.

Q: Does that include applying to be chief?

A: Yes, definitely. I don't regret it. You should always strive to be your best, take advantage of every opportunity.

Q: Is there any aspect of the process you would change — I mean, besides not getting the job?

A: My only frustration was with the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police), the consultant contracted to facilitate the process. An IACP representative explaining the ground rules at the assessment center said the top five names would move forward to the full Police Commission. It was never explained to us why five names did not move forward. IACP specifically told us that five names would be moving forward. Then why would you not pass on five names?

Q: Have you had any explanation since?

A: No, I've never found out why five names didn't move forward.

Q: Were you No. 5?

A: I have no idea. And I would like to not know. I don't feel it would serve any useful purpose.

Q: Can you see yourself ever going for chief again?

A: That's too early to ask. I'm not sure what I'll do in the future.

Q: Do you support the new chief?

A: Yes. Of course, absolutely. I've said all along, that whoever the new chief is, we should be able to support him 100 percent.

Q: What's the lesson for you in all this?

A: Just to continue to do your best, work hard, and take pride in what you've accomplished and don't worry about other people and their agenda. ... Judge me on my merits, on what I've accomplished. ... It was never handed to me.