Expert: HPD must work to regain public’s trust after chief takes leave

The Honolulu Police Department’s reputation has taken a hit with the chief and four officers being targeted in a federal investigation.

Some say HPD now has to regain the public’s trust.

On Tuesday, Chief Louis Kealoha put himself on paid leave. He and four officers received target letters from the FBI tied to an alleged conspiracy to frame Gerard Puana for mailbox theft.

Puana is the uncle of Katherine Kealoha, the police chief’s wife and a deputy prosecutor.

So how much public trust has the department lost and how do officers regain that trust?

KHON2 spoke with Joe Allen, a criminal justice professor, who points out that these are just allegations that have yet to be proven — but in this case, the perception of wrongdoing is enough to damage HPD’s reputation.

While there has been no indictment against Chief Kealoha and the four police officers, Allen says the fact that federal investigators are involved has already damaged HPD’s reputation.

“They wouldn’t bring up these allegations if there wasn’t evidence in their minds to work with,” said the Chaminade University professor.

So how much trust has the department lost with the public? Allen says the good thing is that it’s not a problem that’s within the entire department.

“We’ve seen that happen on the mainland where an entire department is tainted but usually that has seemingly involved the public directly and I don’t think we’ve seen in this case,” he said.

So what does HPD need to do? Allen says it starts with doing their day-to-day jobs really well. They must also make changes within the department and be more open when things go wrong.

“I think transparency is the best way to go,” Allen said. “We’ve seen it time and time again. After a while, it’s lies that wind up being looked at more harshly than the indiscretion.”

It normally starts from the top and what makes this one tricky is the chief is also being targeted by the investigation. Allen says the Honolulu Police Commission has a difficult and critical role moving forward.

If a new chief takes over, the commission has to make the right choice, which can go a long way with the public trust.

“Oftentimes I’ve seen where good leaders can come in and change the mindset right away and gaining that trust can come fairly quickly,” Allen said.

The police commission meets on Jan. 4 to discuss the fate of the police chief. We’ll be there to let you know what happens.

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