Changes possible as search begins for Honolulu’s new police chief

There are only two weeks left until Honolulu’s chief of police officially retires.

Chief Louis Kealoha was placed on restricted leave in December. With March 1 as his official end date, the search is on for his successor.

The Honolulu Police Commission is focusing on the future, and wants to make a few tweaks to the selection process to make sure the new chief is the right fit.

Commissioners gave the green light to officially start the search for a new chief, starting with a public posting for those interested in applying (it has yet to go live).

But the commission wants to widen the pool of applicants by making changes to the law.

Right now, we’re told under state law, all department heads must be a Hawaii resident for at least a year before he or she is chosen, and that applies to the new police chief.

The police commission views this as a problem, because it means anyone interested in applying from out of state isn’t eligible.

We found a proposal that waived that law, so we spoke to Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who chairs the Senate committee on public safety. He says commission chairman Max Sword approached him with the concern, so he introduced the proposal to get rid of the one-year residency requirement to a police chief position.

“We as taxpayers and people who live here, we want to make sure that we have the best candidate we can get,” Nishihara said. “We don’t want to repeat any other problems that may occur because we have a restricted list of candidates, so I think it’s a good policy.”

The proposal is currently moving through the Legislature.

We also asked Sword what he’s looking for in a new chief. He says he wants to continue the department’s current direction, which is being more open to the public.

“If there’s a shooting, for instance, the public feels comfortable when the chief is out there saying this is what happened,” Sword said. “That’s the kind of things we’ll look at. That’s not in the requirements, but we would certainly look at that, the chief be able to address the public.”

Applicants interested in being the next HPD chief will go through a written test, enact a real-life scenario, and go through psychiatric evaluations.

The commission says if everything goes smoothly, the swearing in of the new chief could happen by July or August of this year.

Sword says the police commission wants to very involved with the process this time around.

In years past, the commission chose the chief from a selected group of finalists. This time, Sword says he wants the entire list of applicants to choose from.

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