Honolulu Police Commission announces 7 finalists for next chief of police

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The number of candidates in the running for Honolulu’s next police chief has been narrowed to seven.

The final seven candidates are: Thomas Aiu, Susan Ballard, Kurt Kendro, Kevin Lima, Mark Lomax, James Lowery, and Paul Putzulu.

The Honolulu Police Commission met Thursday morning to narrow the field from a list of nine candidates.

Those names were not officially made public, and in fact were not revealed to the commission until it decided to go with seven.

A consultant hired by the commission presented commissioners with their scores on a variety of tests, and that’s what the commissioners used to narrow the field.

After the commission met, they called each of the seven finalists to let them know.

The next step is that the seven finalists will undergo psychiatric evaluations, background checks, and interviews with the commissioners.

“This is a good group. Even the nine that we folks seem to have gotten the list before we did was a good group,” said commission chairman Max Sword. “We’re going to interview all seven. In other words, they’re all on a level playing at this point in time. We will be asking, well I know personally, I’ll be asking very specific questions to Honolulu that person … how they would handle various situations in Honolulu. That’s where to me, we have to do our best job in the interview process.

“That was one of the evaluations they did in the assessment, is that how that person presents themselves or interacts with public, which is really important,” Sword added. “If there’s an incident, Joe Public likes to feel comfortable when the chief is out there saying here’s what we’re doing.”

“As far as I’m concerned, man or woman, we need to get the most qualified individual who can regain the trust of the public. I am certain the police commission will make that right choice,” said state Sen. Will Espero.

Of the candidates, Lomax is from Pennsylvania and Lowery is from Texas. The rest of the candidates are either current or former Hawaii law enforcement.

Here’s a breakdown:

Thomas Aiu is a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent and professor at Chaminade University. He’s currently the director of security at Hawaiian Airlines.

Susan Ballard is a major at the Honolulu Police Department, where’s she’s worked for 32 years. She oversees the Central Receiving Division, and is the only female candidate. She was a finalist for police chief in 2004, when former chief Lee Donohue retired.

Kurt Kendro is a former police major who once oversaw the Traffic Division and District 8 from Kapolei to Waianae. He retired last year after 30 years with the department.

He says he’s up against highly qualified contenders and thinks any of the finalists would be excellent police chiefs for Honolulu, but he believes his experience differentiates himself from his colleagues.

“The public is going to demand certain things from that chief of police. Transparency will be one, leadership is another,” Kendro said. “We want to see the police department pick up and move forward — decisions made, moving in the right direction. When I retired from the police department, I didn’t think my career was complete. I thought it would be a tremendous opportunity to get back into public service to not only heal the police department but heal the community.”

Kendro currently works for Parsons as the operations manager running the Freeway Patrol Service. He’s also an active volunteer with Special Olympics and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Kevin Lima is a retired HPD assistant chief who was once head of the Narcotics Division before he moved up the ranks.

Mark Lomax worked for the Pennsylvania State Police Department for 27 years and retired in 2008.

We spoke with Lomax before he caught his flight back to Pennsylvania. He says he thinks HPD is a premiere, but relatively unknown department, and wants to elevate HPD to an international level.

Lomax says as chief, he would bridge the gap between police and the public.

“Me, personally, it starts at the top. Transparency, accountability, all those things start with the chief at the top. It’s my pledge to be involved, to get out,” he replied. “Listen to what the issues are. Listen to what the problems are. Also, listen to what we’re doing well, and that needs to get out.”

Though Lomax lives on the mainland, he has ties to Hawaii. His grandfather is Native Hawaiian and he has family here.

“I feel it. Hawaii is in my blood, in my genes. I look at it not coming here, but coming back to my community,” he said.

James Lowery works as deputy chief at Arlington Police Department in Texas.

Paul Putzulu is a retired deputy chief. He was also a finalist for chief in 2009 and retired shortly after former chief Louis Kealoha got the job. He’s currently a security director at Hawaiian Telcom.

So why did the commission choose seven out of nine candidates, and what happened to the other two?

The two candidates that did not make the cut were Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry and former Chicago Police Department commander Gary Yamashiroya.

The commission decided this after the consultant said despite all nine finalists doing well during the assessment center, he recommended moving on with the top seven.

This week, nine candidates took part in an assessment center, a series of various tests administered by local law enforcement to test their ability to lead Honolulu’s police department. The Pennsylvania-based consultant company hired to help put together portfolios of all seven candidates that includes background information, the scores from the written tests, and the assessment center of each finalist.

The consultant explained to commissioners Thursday that there was a scoring gap between the seventh and eighth candidates.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the seven finalists at the Oct. 4 police commission meeting. Each person will have three minutes to speak.

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