Editorial | Our View Hiring should be top HPD priority April 25, 2018 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Honolulu has ranked among the nation’s safest cities, according to multiple studies over the years. Keeping that spot, however, is going to require some work by the Honolulu Police Department, and it’s not going to be an easy lift. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. Honolulu has ranked among the nation’s safest cities, according to multiple studies over the years. Keeping that spot, however, is going to require some work by the Honolulu Police Department, and it’s not going to be an easy lift. Police Chief Susan Ballard has unveiled some fairly disturbing statistics to the City Council, not so much on the level of crime on Oahu, but on the capacity of the force to handle whatever comes its way. This is a problem HPD has been tracking for some time, its recruiting classes attracting fewer officer candidates than they once did. Among the most alarming revelations: that the strapped Criminal Investigations Division is turning away some lower-profile, nonviolent cases — crimes such as burglaries and thefts — due to lack of staffing. This grim reality today cannot be allowed to remain the new normal for our community. Ballard has been at the helm only since November, so can’t be faulted for this situation, but she has spent enough years heading various HPD divisions to quickly get the lay of the land and tackle the staffing problems. She and her team will need to dig deeper to see how the department can reverse the trend. Speaking before the City Council’s Public Health, Safety and Welfare Committee on Thursday, the chief unveiled a game plan for modernizing the police force for 21st-century issues. It’s critical that the department get on the right track, and soon, because it is now seeking a renewal of credentials with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. On multiple fronts, Ballard seems to be following a rational path toward improvements. In particular, it makes perfect sense for HPD to develop a cybercrime unit. This is needed to address computer theft, fraud, identity theft and other offenses that can originate anywhere in the world but target victims in the agency’s own back yard. It’s on the rise, and Ballard is not alone among local police chiefs who are grappling with it, and lacking the expertise and resources to do so. Many conventional crimes also involve our society’s ubiquitous digital tools — the drug dealer using a smartphone, a sex offender keeping images of victims on laptops or tablets — and police work demands a facility with technology. Further, Ballard wants to beef up the department’s capability to address elder fraud cases. That is entirely logical given the impending “silver tsunami” of baby-boom retirees and the already appalling schemes to bilk seniors of their money. But the most distressing aspect of the chief’s report is the assertion that only about 65 percent of patrol officer jobs were filled when she took office. The five-year plan to reach full staffing, requiring a 5 percent growth in the coming budget year, sounds reasonable. In the short term, the proposal to ease the recruitment of officers trained elsewhere ought to help as well. The understaffing has been chronic, growing worse in recent years, she told the Council. In general, she said, HPD has not held enough of an attraction to spur recruitment to a sufficient level. That may be due to the perennial pay-versus-cost-of-living imbalance of the local economy; also, the national furor over police shootings in the past decade has tarnished the allure of law enforcement as a career. The fact that HPD went through its own decline due to the corruption case against Ballard’s predecessor, Louis Kealoha, surely must play a role in this. Filling vacancies must take precedence over some of Ballard’s secondary goals. Her wish list included upgrades in the HPD website and adding the capability for online reporting of crimes. These elements are not broken and do not need fixing urgently. But increasing patrols and criminal investigation divisions? Those are priorities that must be pursued. So should plans for training improvements to maintain police skills. Promoting police work as a career with multiple dimensions should be part of an aggressive recruitment outreach to students. Those are the people HPD needs most to build a force connected with the community it serves, which is fundamental to success. Previous Story A landlord’s nightmare in Poamoho Next Story What will happen if TMT is not built on Mauna Kea?