Quote Unquote: Police Chief Ballard Talks Guns, Body Cams and Even Cop Shows
Susan Ballard headed patrol divisions in Kalihi and Kailua and supervised the training academy, finance division and the gritty central receiving area which includes the main cellblock. She took over a department battered by the scandal surrounding former Chief Louis Kealoha and his prosecutor wife, both indicted on federal corruption charges that claim they used their positions to bilk relatives and clients to pay for a lavish lifestyle.
We interviewed Honolulu police chief Susan Ballard for our January issue. The wide-ranging conversation gave us insight into what this community leader is thinking, so we wanted to share the longer version here.
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino
WE CAN JUST START from this point, move forward, we treat people with respect, we do things the right way, for the right reason and just treat people nicely. Go back to the golden rule, treat people the way that you would want to be treated, the way you would want your family members to be treated and maintain that integrity.
THE FIRST TIME you do something that may be contrary to what is right, it starts that slide down that slippery slope. We’re just not going to go there anymore. So even though it may be a hard decision, it may be something we want to do, if it’s not the right thing to do, then we’re not going to do it.
EVERY ASSIGNMENT AT HPD that I’ve gone to, I’d say most of them, really ended up being a great assignment. There’s never been one that’s been better than the other. Central Receiving: I dreaded going down there. Once I went down there, the people were so great and we needed to do a whole lot of things to improve the place. Pretty much it’s the people that you work with. Every division was special. That’s what makes your job so much easier.
I TELL PEOPLE I don’t feel any different. I just feel like I’m still the same footman from when I was on patrol in Waikīkī. It’s just now that I became chief, if I go to Sam’s or Costco or something, I see people looking at me and I’ll smile at them and they come up and ask me if I’m the chief. They want to shake your hand, they want to take pictures, especially the women. It tickles me pink because they all want to take pictures and say, ‘I’m going to show this to my son or my husband.’ It just thrills me and I think it’s just awesome that the women are so open and so excited about the fact that there’s a female police chief.
MY FIRST FULL-TIME JOB was when I was in college, working at a McDonald’s. You just learned you really had to work hard for the money and it wasn’t going to come easy. It was a way for me to get my education and pay for college at the same time.
I’VE BEEN TRYING to go to as many public events as I can to talk to people, to take pictures, shake hands, thank people for being there and supporting us and just talking to the officers and making sure they understand that they meet with so many people on a daily basis, they’re the ones who are actually going to make our reputation and change the feeling of the community and regain the trust.
WE’RE BRINGING BACK the juvenile services division, because that was done away with under Chief Kealoha’s regime. I feel that juveniles are a special group of people, just like our kūpuna. The kūpuna and the juveniles are our two most vulnerable populations and can be taken advantage of. I feel like especially with the juveniles, if we don’t get to them and show them the right path when they’re young that they can become the future criminals, instead of making them good citizens and hopefully maybe even future police officers.
I TOOK A LOOK at our vision statement as well as our mission statement and they were paragraphs long. So nobody really knew what it was. I wanted to take a look and just basically boil everything back down to what police work is, and that’s why I came up with ‘The community and HPD working together to make our island safe,’ because that’s exactly what policing comes down to. For the mission statement, once again it was long and it was involved. Going back to basics—serving and protecting with aloha—that’s what we are here for.
THE FIRST THING I DID after I was sworn in was I got rid of the ties because it was like, this is Hawai’i, this is not the Mainland. To me, this Class A uniform that we wear is our formal attire. It represents who we are and the shirts are actually special made to look like aloha shirts. There’s no other police department in the United States that has shirts that are similar to us. There’s no other police department that has a badge that’s anything like ours. So we’re unique.
WE GOT THREE STUDIES started:
Beat realignment to make sure that the patrol beat areas match the increase in population. Look at Kaka‘ako, look at all those high-rises, look at the number of people who have moved into that area, but there have been no new police officers. Taking a look at HART because when the train comes on board, even though they may have security, if they need something, if there’s a crime, obviously there’s going to be a drain on resources. Koa Ridge, we want to take a look if we have enough beats or need to change or add.
I wanted a management study to take a look at our strengths and weaknesses, what training can be recommended so we can do our job better, rather than just throwing them in the job and saying sink or swim.
Study of the hiring process to try to reduce the time to get a recruit from application to class in six to seven months instead of a year. And get them on board quicker. We have 204 funded vacancies and large retirements at the end of the year.
JUST TO FILL those vacancies, it’s going to take a couple of years. I’m hoping that we’ve got a new beginning and we’re moving forward, that people are going to start applying for the police department. Because it’s a great job, it’s really rewarding, there are good benefits, I’m hoping the size of our recruit classes can increase. I can’t really ask for any new positions to fill these new needs until I can fill the vacancies that I have.
I’M NOT A GUN PERSON but I know there are people who are passionate about guns. I see both sides. No matter how strict our gun laws are, the criminals are still going to get the guns.
I WANT [people] to know that we’re open, that we’re there for them. We need their help. I know that’s been said over and over again but I truly believe that. If they need something, please call, whatever we can do we’re going to try and assist. We’re going to be as open as we possibly can within the bounds of the collective bargaining agreement and the legal side. The days are gone where it’s like we can’t comment on that or it’s under investigation. If it’s something that we can say or release that’s not going to affect the investigation. With cell phones and everything else out there, most people have the video already. Everyone calls the media. Why hold it in? You might as well be upfront and talk about whatever happens.
WE’RE CURRENTLY in the testing phase [of body-worn cameras], the pilot program. It seems to be going OK. There were a few glitches here and there with the current system that we’re testing. We’ll be making a decision as to what vendor we may be going with. Right now, there are only 77 cameras out there. To do a full rollout, we’re looking at maybe 1,400, 1,500 cameras to put cameras on all the patrol officers, and some of the other units like solo bikes that have direct contact with the public. It is going to be a cost issue as well. If you go and look at the Mainland, there are some departments that are stopping the body-worn cameras because the cost of it, what it’s producing isn’t worth the cost. But we’re not the Mainland, so at this point, I would have to say, I don’t know. We would need to take a look at the program as it goes along. We’re not going to throw 1,400 cameras out there. We’re going to slowly increase it. Does the community even want it? Is it worth putting out the money for it?
PROBABLY THE CLOSEST [TV series to reality] would be Blue Bloods. It’s funny when you watch Hawai‘i Five-0 and you see them going from Beretania and in two minutes they’re down in Waialua. Most police shows, they go out and do the job and you never see them actually sitting down and doing the reports.
ONE OF MY FIRST female role models was Barbara Uphouse, now Barbara Uphouse Wong, who retired as an assistant police chief. She was so intelligent; she had common sense. She was nice; she was fair. She was never my supervisor but I would watch and see how she worked with people.
SOME OF MY SUPERVISORS, retired senior deputy chief Bill Clark and retired assistant chief Stephen Watarai. They all made a big impact on me as far as my management style and my leadership. Bill Clark used to tell me: ‘Why do you keep running into the wall? The wall’s not going to move. You’ve got to figure out another way to go around the wall.’ Basically, don’t do the same thing over and over when you know it’s not going to work. Figure out how to do it another way.
WATARAI WOULD SAY: ‘I trust you until you show me that I can’t trust you anymore.’ That always stuck with me. That’s why I tell whoever comes to work with me, I trust you and I’m going to believe you’re going to do the right thing until you prove to me that you can’t and then it’s going to be difficult to earn my trust back.
WHAT’S REALLY HELPED me, especially as I’ve gotten older, is doing yoga. It really helps stabilize your core, makes your body work all together and gets your flexibility and balance back.
MY FUN IS pretty much my three dogs and taking them for a walk and always knowing that they’re happy to see me. I do enjoy working out.