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Sunday, April 20, 2014         

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'Hands-on' Kealoha finishes 1 year as chief of Honolulu's police force

A former city top cop sees potential in the head of HPD, who has a "punishing" schedule

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

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It's been a low-key yet busy year for Louis Kealoha, who marked his anniversary on the job as Honolulu police chief on Thanksgiving Day.

He has had to wrestle with a tight operating budget while trying to ensure there is a sufficient number of recruits available to replace a large number of potential retirees.

He has also been trying to improve morale among the rank and file after replacing a chief, Boisse Correa, who did not have wide support from his officers at the end of his term.

City Councilman Lee Donohue, who preceded Correa as chief, said Kealoha has done a satisfactory job so far.

"It's a big learning curve because he came from the rank of captain," said Donohue, who has met with Kealoha to advise him several times over the past year.

Responsibilities mount exponentially when an officer becomes a captain, a major, an assistant chief and a deputy chief, he said.

Donohue said, however, that Kealoha has potential and integrity.

"With more experience he's going to start excelling in certain areas," he said.

During a wide-ranging interview last week, Kealoha also acknowledged he has had a "steep learning curve" on the job.

Kealoha called his schedule "punishing."

Nonetheless, he said, he remains enthusiastic about the job, and he is making it a goal to visit every shift of every HPD division on the island during the holiday season to thank the officers for doing a good job.

Craig Watase, a member of the Honolulu Police Commission, said that during a recent stop at a Zippy's, he made an impromptu visit with officers on their dinner break and got their assessment of Kealoha.

"They said he's a lot more in front of the troops. They like that," Watase said. "It's a good leadership trait that works well in Hawaii -- to be real hands-on, in front, accessible and visible."

Marc Tilker, Police Commission chairman, said he and his colleagues are starting a one-year review of Kealoha's performance. Tilker said he will not offer his personal assessment of Kealoha's performance until that is done, other than to say that the chief "has been putting his best effort forward."

THE CITY has had to deal with budget shortfalls in recent years, and Kealoha told reporters when he started as chief that he was worried officers would have to be taken off the streets to tend to clerical duties.

HPD has adopted a two-day-a-month furlough schedule for civilian employees only, not officers, and the department has not had to place more officers on desk duty as he had feared, Kealoha said.

To help cope with budget problems, he consolidated five offices into two.

The Juvenile Services Division and the Community Affairs Section have joined to form the Community Affairs Division. Meanwhile, the Internal Affairs Office, the Accreditation Office and the Quality Assurance Office have merged as the Professional Standards Office.

"We're going to look at where there's a duplication of effort, where we can streamline things," he said, adding that public safety has not been compromised by the moves.

Honolulu had fewer violent crimes and property crimes during the first nine months of 2010 compared with the same period a year ago, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

Kealoha expects more shuffling and redeployment might be necessary as HPD begins preparing for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"If you look at the economic landscape, everybody's going through challenges," the chief said.

In the past few months, HPD has endured a spate of bad news about police officers who have run into trouble with the law.

Two HPD sergeants and five officers in the Traffic Division have been indicted and accused of falsifying records for financial gain.

There are seven separate misdemeanor cases now going through state Circuit Court, and the matter is still the subject of an internal investigation. As a result, Kealoha said he could not discuss specifics about the charges.

Meanwhile, at least four HPD officers have been arrested for different offenses ranging from abuse of a family member to shoplifting.

Kealoha said he takes the cases seriously because the department's integrity is at stake.

As for guarding against future transgressions by HPD officers: "We have to emphasize the importance of accountability," Kealoha said. "What it comes down to is making good, personal decisions. ... It comes down to, What would you want your family to see you doing?"

Kealoha said the example for how officers should conduct themselves needs to come from the top. So the chief, who just turned 50, recently passed the "Fit for Life" physical test given to recruits.

"If we're going to ask something from you, we ourselves need to be ready to do it ourselves," he said.

Kealoha has stressed improving morale for both officers and civilian employees. Kealoha was selected as chief last year after the Police Commission declined to offer then-Chief Correa a one-year extension of his five-year term.

Earlier in 2009 the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers asked the commission to end Correa's tenure.

"I wanted to provide a climate where our officers and our civilians want to come to work as soon as they get into the parking garage," Kealoha said.

Asked whether SHOPO needs to make sacrifices during ongoing contract negotiations, Kealoha said, "We need to support our officers as well as our civilians in terms of getting the best compensation packages possible."

If salaries and benefits are not competitive with private-sector or mainland jobs, "our officers and even our civilians are going to look someplace else to work," he said. "What's also important is that we understand the need to stay within the budget, so it's definitely a fine balance."

ONE THING SHOPO wants that it will not get any time soon is a return to three 12-hour-day workweeks.

"In this economic downturn ... this isn't a time where we work less days. We need to work more days," Kealoha said.

Councilman Donohue said Kealoha will inevitably need to make decisions that displease SHOPO and the rank and file.

"I would hope he can draw the line between being chief and being a friend with the police officers," Donohue sad. "For the most part, I think he's going to be OK."

The chief has also been struggling to retain officers in the wake of pending retirements.

There are now 344 officers eligible for retirement. The department has sent through three recruit classes in the last year that will net between 70 and 80 new officers. Another class is expected to start in the next two months.

Maintaining a steady level of officers is critical, especially this year, with an eye toward the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting next fall at the Hawai'i Convention Center, Kealoha said.

Donohue said Kealoha has done a good job trying to deal with the longtime struggle to maintain the ranks of officers.

In an effort to improve HPD's relations with the community, Kealoha initiated volunteer community cleanup days in downtown Honolulu, Kapolei, Waipahu and East Honolulu.

This week, Kealoha said, he will unveil a new, more user-friendly website that will make it easier for the public to locate what types of crimes are happening in their neighborhoods.





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