Commission review details Honolulu Police Department chief Susan Ballard's leadership flaws

Mark Ladao, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·3 min read

Apr. 8—The Honolulu Police Commission was mostly critical of Chief Susan Ballard during her third annual evaluation, and it gave her a plan of items to help with improvement.

was reflected on Wednesday during a police commission meeting that provided little praise for Ballard for her work in 2020.

The annual evaluation graded the chief in seven areas, and Ballard "fell below expectations " in two : leadership and management, which "are crucial to leading the Honolulu Police Department, " police commission Chairwoman Shannon Alivado said, adding "the outcome of the evaluation has led to serious concerns."

The evaluation represents the first time the commission had graded her as falling below expectations in any category since becoming chief.

Ballard, who could have opted to keep the evaluation confidential, decided to make it public as she did for her first two evaluations.

But she was also notably absent at the commission meeting while Alivado summarized the results.

Ballard was present virtually at the beginning of Wednesday's meeting, but Alivado noted she had to leave during the review portion because of a "medical appointment."

In the evaluation itself, the commission said Ballard "had a tendency to be dismissive and did not accept responsibility for concerns raised against the Department. At times, Chief Ballard did not accept constructive criticism and, within the Department, berated others in front of their peers."

Morale among rank-and-file officers was compromised, it said.

The evaluation also berated the chief for an inability to take responsibility for problems, citing the overtime abuse within HPD's COVID-19 enforcement teams.

"When problems arise, Chief Ballard must take responsibility and avoid laying any blame at the feet of any of the command staff, " Alivado said during the commission meeting. The commission said it wants to see "substantial improvement " in HPD's "culture of blame."

In five of the seven categories, the commission said Ballard had met expectations, but even in some of those, it said she had faltered somewhat.

It found there to be "poor communication " within the department and noted Ballard's deteriorating relationship with news organizations.

It also said Ballard is sometimes dismissive of even the police commission.

It wasn't all bad news, as the police commission commended Ballard for some of HPD's homeless outreach programs and appreciated Ballard's cooperation as the commission reviewed the city budget. It also said she was "resourceful " in initiating online training to address problems like implicit bias.

But the compliments were few, and after the review, Ballard expressed her disappointment via an email statement.

"I don't believe that this evaluation conveys the views of most officers and professional staff. I also do not think that it reflects the view of the general public, " Ballard said. "I am ultimately responsible for the department and will continue to hold the command staff and officers accountable for their actions even when it's unpopular."

To improve her performance as chief, the commission wants Ballard to take action on a "performance improvement plan."

Starting April 15, Ballard will have 60 days to address a long list of items on the plan before the commission reviews her again.

The plan set quotas for Ballard to meet, and includes monthly meetings between commissioners and HPD personnel and meetings with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers' Honolulu board ; biweekly video blogs and press conferences with news organizations ; and daily memos to command staff.

Steven Levinson, a former police commissioner who, applauded the latest evaluation as being balanced but blunt.

He said the performance improvement plan could be the first of its kind for the commission, and that the evaluation shows that most of the commission is willing to be critical of the chief—unlike in years past.

"Clearly the seesaw has tipped in the other direction, and at least a majority of the commission is willing to take this seriously and identify and describe the chief's shortcomings where they are, and also acknowledge the chief's strengths, which the evaluation also does, " Levinson said.

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