HONOLULU (KHON2) — Candidates who applied for Honolulu police chief last July will have to wait nearly a whole year to find out if they got the job. Always Investigating looked into why the search for a chief is taking so long.
Other Hawaii counties and mainland cities are able to hire chiefs within months, so why the delay here, and what will keep it from stretching even further?
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In April 2021, then-Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said she was ready to retire. With Ballard out that June, Rade Vanic took the helm in the interim.
The application window closed in July, but now it’s January and still no permanent hire.
“We should have had a police chief yesterday, you know, or within a couple of months after Chief Ballard had retired,” said SHOPO President Robert Cavaco, head of the police union.
In October — already 6 months from Ballard’s announcement — the police commission was still asking for community input about the next recruit.
KHON2 asked the head of the police commission what caused the delay?
“The delay initially was with the onboarding of a consultant,” explained Honolulu Police Commission Chairwoman Shannon Alivado. “And as you know, when you spend public funds, you need to go through the procurement process. “
That consultant – PSI Services — is finally in place, but with another six-month turnaround for its work.
“In my opinion, we don’t need a consultant and charge our taxpayers $145,000 for a firm that is going to basically conduct an in-depth interview,” Cavaco said.
KHON2 asked why does the police commission – to which many business professionals are appointed — need a consultant?
“We’re not HR professionals,” Alivado said. “We’re not one that can see which top candidate can be vetted and properly identified as being able to run a department with over 2,500 personnel, which deals with over 900,000 calls for service each year.”
The updated timeline means it would be summer 2022 before HPD has its leader in place — or 14 months from Ballard’s announced departure.
Even some commissioners are bristling at the timeline for the consultant’s work which includes written exams, interviews, assessments and simulated exercises, even a town-hall with finalists.
“Is there anything that we can do to cut this time in half and do it in three months?” commissioner Jerry Gibson asked the consultant at the last board meeting.
“I think as far as accelerating from six to three would be a challenge,” responded Janet Echemendia, a PSI Services representative, “But I think we’d have to think about that more deeply, I think. Can we move it more a little more quickly? Possibly.”
On Maui the last chief announced March 2021 he’d retire in May, and the Valley Isle commission voted to approve his successor Nov. 3. Honolulu is about six times bigger of a city but when we looked at other major metro departments, we found they wrapped up their chief hiring in less than half the time Honolulu is taking.
San Francisco took seven months from a chief quitting to his replacement being appointed. Los Angeles replaced a chief in five months. San Jose did it in less than four months.
The Honolulu Police Commission has already done much of the footwork.
“It was 30 days for the application period,” Cavaco explained. “You have 12 internal applicants, I believe, and seven external or from the mainland. And so then you have maybe two months, conducted interviews, conduct background checks, make sure they’re qualified.”
KHON2 asked Alivado: What are the guardrails you’re putting on the process now to make sure that the consultant can’t take even more time than they’re projecting?
“We’re on the consultant and ensuring that these next steps that they’ve identified are not only taken lightly, but followed quite closely,” Alivado said.