Honolulu Police Department’s First Woman Chief Spent 32 Years on the Force
Maj. Susan Ballard earlier spoke out on cronyism and ethical violations. Now she has the top job.
Photo: Courtesy of Dennis Oda/Honolulu Star-Advertiser
After months of drama that included claims the selection process was tainted, the Honolulu Police Commission chose a successor to indicted former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha—Maj. Susan Ballard, who has served 32 years in the department.
At the press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 25, Ballard, 60, was described by commissioner Loretta Sheehan as “a person who is direct, who is authentic, incredibly honest and incredibly competent … Sue Ballard is exactly what this department needs.”
Ballard has said she was sidelined for her criticism of former Chief Kealoha and his wife, deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, and four other officers, who were indicted last week as a result of a federal investigation into an alleged criminal conspiracy to frame a Kealoha family member. Her account has been supported by other HPD officers, who were relegated to slow-track positions and not promoted.
Ballard was selected from seven finalists.
The commission didn’t wait for Mayor Kirk Caldwell to return from an out-of-town trip. That left acting mayor Roy Amemiya to comment: “Chief Susan Ballard has a major challenge in restoring public trust in the leadership of the Honolulu Police Department … On behalf of Mayor Caldwell, I congratulate Chief Ballard on being selected O‘ahu’s first female police chief.”
On Thursday, Oct. 26, Sheehan spoke to HONOLULU about why the commission needed only a brief discussion to reach a decision after concluding its interview process. “Before we held the public meeting Oct. 4,” she said, “we had no idea how popular Sue Ballard was in the department. We had no idea so many men and women would all want Sue Ballard. We didn’t know she had popular backing.” Once the commission convened, “Yes, we were able to agree pretty quickly.”
What made Ballard so impressive? “She’s outspoken,” says Sheehan. “I admire that. She’s someone who’s been blackballed for so many years, but loves the department so much that she will hang in, she will stay and she will fight—and apply when the job comes up.”
The decision came at a fraught time for the Police Commission as well as the HPD. Commissioner Luella Costales resigned in late September, pointing at the lack of diversity among the consultant search selection panel members, four white males from the Mainland, all in law enforcement. Commission head Max Sword was forced to recuse himself after it was discovered he had not mentioned that his wife was a cousin of one of the finalists.
The quick decision, says Sheehan, “is a relief. Last week everyone was just crushed by the return of the indictments of Chief Kealoha and the officers. Morale was at an all-time low. The euphoria that erupted when Sue Ballard was named makes this a highly emotional time.”
The commission will not actively participate in the transition, Sheehan says. “It’s not our role to micromanage the HPD. We’ll let the dust settle a bit. The major has to obviously go through her physical and psychological examinations, but she’s going to hit the ground running. In our discussions, she had a great number of ideas, improvements, changes to make—next week, next month, next year.”
The future of the commission is also in flux, Sheehan says. “We will step back and watch the chief lead; however, speaking for myself, the indictments of last week really spoke volumes about how the police commission is doing business—and about how we need to change. The police commission has to do some internal reflection on how we can better serve the community. We are not there as window dressing, we are not there as a fan club.
“That means, lifting up the hood and looking underneath,” she added.
Maj. Susan Ballard
Born: Norfolk, Va.
Raised: North Carolina
Years in Hawai‘i: 35
Highlights: HPD division head of Central Receiving (2012–present); District 4, Windward O‘ahu; District 5, Kalihi; Training division; Finance division.