Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha in 2010: What a Difference a Decade Makes
HONOLULU sat down with Louis Kealoha in his first year as HPD chief. Check out what he had to say about corruption, “intelligence-led policing,” and more.
Updated on September 27, 2019: Former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha is awaiting sentencing later this year after being found guilty in June of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. His wife, former deputy city prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, is being held in federal custody until sentencing. The once-powerful couple also is awaiting trial on alleged bank fraud and identity theft.
Nearly a decade ago, HONOLULU Magazine sat down with Louis Kealoha in 2010 for an in-depth interview. It’s especially interesting to look back now to see what he had to say about priorities, corruption, building public trust and something called “intelligence-led policing.” We think he missed that last one entirely.
PHOTO: MARK ARBEIT
O‘ahu got its 10th chief of police last November, when the Police Commission unanimously selected Louis Kealoha from a field of six candidates.
A 26-year veteran of the force, 13 of them on patrol, Kealoha has worked his way through the Honolulu Police Department’s divisions, including the Criminal Investigation Division, the Narcotics/Vice Division, and finally the Juvenile Services Division.
He’s also picked up a couple of degrees along the way: a master’s of science in criminal justice administration from Chaminade University and a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California.
We sat down with Kealoha in May, six months after he took the job, to find out more about what he’s learned so far and how he’s battling crime on O‘ahu. Appointed to a five-year term, one of his first tasks was to develop a five-year plan to improve the department, so we asked about that, too.
HONOLULU Magazine: What have you discovered about the chief of police job that you didn’t know back in November?
Louis Kealoha: One of the things I’m learning is that implementing change takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. That’s where relationships come in, building trust in the rank and file, the command staff, the politicians, everyone. It’s difficult to change the system.
HPD budget for fiscal year 2010.
HM: When you took over, did you feel the need to take the department in a different direction than your predecessor, Boisse Correa?
LK: When it comes to policy, departments change according to the external environment. We didn’t have to make any drastic changes, but I did want to create a positive climate, where people want to come to work.
HM: What are the major challenges faced by the Honolulu Police Department?
LK: Obviously the economy. Maintaining the public’s trust in the police. In July, our civilian employees are going to be furloughed. That’s going to be a challenge, because the officers aren’t going to be furloughed, so that causes a gap. The challenge is to bring the team together, so we can all move forward, in terms of morale. The plan is that, despite the furloughs, we’re still going to provide the same kinds of services we normally do.
HM: When you look at the crime stats, what jumps out at you? What does HPD need to focus on?
LK: Keeping our public safe. Nothing specific.
HM: How do you prioritize between, for example, violent crime, property crime and highway safety?
LK: It just depends on the situation. It’s hard to say, oh, we’re only going to focus our resources on violent crimes. For everything, whether it’s traffic violations, property crimes, violent crimes, there’s a sense of urgency that we have to react with. Not a sense of panic. They’re all important.
HM: Hawai‘i ranks fifth in the nation when it comes to meth use. How would you characterize the department’s anti-ice efforts?
LK: In addition to traditional enforcement, HPD is addressing the ice problem through prevention, such as Weed & Seed, the Police Activities League and community policing, and education, such as the DARE program. We are also supporting legislation that seeks stiffer penalties for meth-related offenses.
HM: Are you working more on street-level criminal activity, or are you doing more higher-level investigations into the supply?
LK: You start at the low level, hoping to reach the suppliers. That’s how it works. Usually you have to go in at the bottom. It’s like anything else. You win their trust, and they’ll introduce you to the bigger suppliers. That’s the hope. Wherever we can get in, we’re open to that.
HM: In 2008, HPD cleared 10.5 percent of its property-crime cases. Nationally, in the same time period, the clearance rate was 17.4 percent. What’s holding Honolulu’s police back?
LK: For a lot of the clearance rates, we use the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. [Editor’s note: The UCR Program is a voluntary city, county, state, tribal and federal law-enforcement program that provides a nationwide view of crime based on the submission of statistics by law-enforcement agencies throughout the country.] That’s where these stats are coming from. But everyone reports differently. The thresholds are different for each jurisdiction, as far as what they’re going to report, and I think the reporting methods aren’t consistent. We report everything, while others nationally want to keep a positive image about their city. What we need to look at is how we close cases, and what we are reporting. I think that will improve the percentage.
When you’re investigating these cases, you talk with the complainant, and they can only give you so much information. And then you have to look for leads. If there are no leads, no suspects, it’s challenging. It all depends on how much information you can get. And there are many different types of property crimes. If you also look at the uniform crime reporting, that format is close to 100 years old. So it hasn’t been updated. We have to look at a new way of counting, to adjust for crime today.
Number of officers who have left HPD for other law enforcement agencies, since 1998.
Number of these officers who have since returned to HPD.
HM: With medical marijuana now legal in Hawai‘i, what approach do you take toward enforcing other laws prohibiting marijuana possession? Is it a priority for you?
LK: We act with a sense of urgency. Just because it’s legal in some aspects, it doesn’t mean we’re not taking enforcement action against it. On the Big Island, they’ve ruled that it’s not going to be a priority. [Editor’s note: The Big Island passed a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority of Cannabis Ordinance county law in 2008.] But it’s definitely something that we’ll continue to enforce.
HM: The City Council has been creating laws that target the homeless. What priority have you put on enforcing these new laws? What kind of latitude do you have in policies targeting the homeless?
LK: Our position is that homelessness is not a crime. But whatever laws we have, we’re going to enforce them, whether you’re homeless or just happen to be in a park without a permit. It’s equal enforcement, across the board.
HM: In areas where there are chronic crime and disorder complaints, neighborhood boards around the island have told me it seems that police are turning a blind eye or are simply ineffective at addressing the problems. Is there any way to resolve long-standing issues?
LK: If there’s a chronic problem, we want to take care of it. But a crime is different from a simple public nuisance. If there are repeated complaints about gambling, you can’t just show up and arrest people. The way the criminal justice system works, you have to address all these different requirements to satisfy the law. So it might take a little while. But if it’s a public nuisance—someone’s complaining about a neighbor—you can initially ask that they keep it down. But you have to take it a step further: Are they renting the house, are they the owners of the home? What are the root causes for the noise? You’re not going to cure it overnight. A lot of these problems have a history to them. It’s not like the police can show up, wave a magic wand and make them go away.
Once we identify a chronic problem, we’ll talk to all the different parties. The police alone can’t solve the problem. We have to look to neighborhood boards, the politicians, the other neighbors. We have to work in a partnership with all the stakeholders.
Value of all stolen property on O‘ahu, 2008.
Value of all stolen property recovered, 2008.
HM: The police department often publicizes its commitment to anti-jaywalking and seatbelt campaigns. Couldn’t that time and money be better spent battling more serious crimes?
LK: A lot of the click-it-or-ticket campaigns are federally funded. But pedestrians, seatbelts, things like that, are all important, because we’re trying to save lives. The challenge is how to get our community to take responsibility for its own personal safety. You want to do prevention, communication, reaching out to the communities, but on this more extreme end of the spectrum, you have enforcement. We don’t want to take that route, but pedestrian accidents are up. Look at the fatalities we’ve had recently. It’s because of speeding, kids riding in the back of pickup trucks. So after the prevention and educational programs and all that, you have to follow through with enforcement.
HM: I’m thinking specifically about last [March], when [a fatal shooting and retaliatory stabbing took place between rival drug gangs] in Chinatown. The police stepped up their presence, but local business owners felt that the presence was being misapplied. There were increased patrols in the daytime, ticketing jaywalkers, and not necessarily at night, tackling the criminal activities more related to the murders.
LK: You want a police officer on every street corner, well, this is what’s going to happen. There’s going to be enforcement of all laws. We cannot discriminate between who’s a bad guy and who’s a good guy. We’re going to enforce the law; that’s our job.
Value of livestock stolen on O‘ahu, 2008.
Value of livestock recovered, 2008.
HM: In your five-year plan, you mention implementing intelligence-led policing. What does that mean?
LK: The theory is that you get in information, it goes to a certain element in the department, they analyze that information, and it then becomes intelligence. Based on that intelligence, we will distribute it to the responsible divisions. Whoever receives the information can use that to deploy their resources.
HM: How is that different from what’s being done now?
LK: As in many organizations, information isn’t always collected, analyzed or shared between units efficiently. Intelligence-led policing will help us to compile and use intelligence more effectively.
HM: Your five-year plan calls for a closer partnership with the Pacific Regional Intelligence Clearinghouse, Hawai‘i’s Fusion Center. Could you explain what that would entail?
LK: The center’s mission is to facilitate the collection and dissemination of critical threat information to agencies entrusted with ensuring public safety. We have a lot of federal partners, and what it will look like is that one of our personnel will staff the Fusion Center with a lot of the different agencies, including the Honolulu Fire Department, the Emergency Management Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
HPD at a glance
(As of April 30, 2010)
Number of citizens per uniformed officer (State total):
Vermont: 391 (most heavily policed state.
HM: Are they looking at the issue of terrorism?
LK: Absolutely. Terrorism, narcotics, even gang activity. We’re looking at all that, on national and global levels.
HM: How interconnected is Hawai‘i to larger enforcement issues on the Mainland? Are there a lot of ties between criminal activities on the Mainland and in Hawai‘i?
LK: I don’t know about a lot, but definitely a lot of what is happening here is tied to what’s happening there. Drug trafficking, terrorism. The world is smaller, because of all the technology, and we’re definitely more connected.
HM: Christine Camp, chair of the Honolulu Police Commission, has expressed concern that your five-year plan doesn’t specifically target abuses of power and corruption within the department. What’s your response?
LK: A strategy is just that. It doesn’t include everything that HPD does. This is just a framework. If you look at the plan, it’s fairly compact. We didn’t want it to be redundant, to mention things that are mentioned in our annual report, or our normal policies and procedures. We already have, in our policies and procedures, things that address police corruption. What’s included in this five-year-plan are strategies for change, to move the department in a direction we want to take it. Corruption isn’t in here, because we talk about it in other documents.
HM: Speaking with neighborhood board chairs, I’ve repeatedly heard requests for better communication with the police department. How could that be accomplished?
LK: One way to better communicate is through our website. The second thing is that myself and the two deputy chiefs have been going out and meeting with the neighborhood security watches and boards. We’re also recruiting more participation from our communities, developing more neighborhood security watches and strengthening relationships in that way. Last year, in Wahiawā, we created 250 new watches.
But it can’t just be one way. It’s an open communication; it’s a partnership with everybody. Another thing we’re doing to improve communication is looking at creating an online reporting site. Sometimes a community member doesn’t always want to get on the phone to make a 911 call for a nonemergency situation, so they can visit the website, submit a report online and we can take it from there.
MOST DANGEROUS NEIGHBORHOOD
Increase in overall crime on O‘ahu from 2008 to 2009.
Number of volunteers who help HPD, including reserve police officers, handicap-parking-enforcement officers, phone/clerical help and interpreters.
Average weight of a patrol officer's gun belt.
HM: I’ve also heard complaints that the police reports given to neighborhood boards are not useful enough. They include raw incident numbers, but don’t track trends or identify specific problem areas. What plans do you have for making better information available?
LK: It’s not the reports, per se. It’s going to be those websites, you’ll be able to see patterns and trends. Everyone is going to have access to that. You’ll be able to see where the burglaries are happening. Anyone, at any time, who wants to see what’s going on can click in and see what’s happening.
HM: Do you have a timeline for when this will be implemented?
LK: No. Within these five years.
HM: When you started, the police union asked for a three-day work week instead of the current five-day work week. What’s your thinking on the subject? What are the tradeoffs between the two schedules?
LK: The No. 1 concern is cost, it’s a primary concern. The other concern is public perception. Hey, these officers are working a three-day work week, in this economy? We don’t want to foster a negative perception. Or compromise public safety. Having an officer on the job for five days in a row improves communication and effectiveness. Having a gap of four days off is just too long. After looking at the issue, we’re not going to go back to a three-day work week.
HM: Stan Aquino of the State of Hawai‘i Organization of Police Officers [labor union] says that officer morale is generally good these days, but that he has concerns about not having enough officers on the street. How do you gauge adequate staffing levels?
LK: We have a formula, and we go by the size of the jurisdiction. We look at the calls for service, the types of calls that are being made. That dictates how many officers we put in an area. The plan is to staff the areas adequately, but many times there are unforeseen circumstances. The officer calls in sick, or is injured. So that impacts the staffing in certain areas.
HM: Is the budget a factor in these staffing decisions?
LK: Obviously you have to manage overtime. It’s like your budget at home; you only earn so much money, so you have to spend within your means. We’re trying to be efficient, looking at how we can serve the public without compromising officer safety. If we ran into a situation where our budget was reduced, we’d have to move officers from our specialized divisions down to the patrol level. So we’d be able to shift.
HM: Is officer recruitment and retention still an issue? Are San Jose and Seattle still scooping up our officers?
LK: Not as much as before. They used to recruit here more often, but we’ve also started to go to the Mainland, going to universities, high schools, getting in touch with students early in their education pipeline, like with the PAL programs. It’s still a challenge, nationally, to recruit officers. But not like before.
HM: Is the department facing a staffing shortage?
LK: We’re not fully staffed, but it’s normal attrition, retirements, people leaving for various reasons. We’re not to the point where we need to be concerned.
HM: A pilot program [from November 2009 to March 2010] tested whether putting mugshots of DUI suspects online was an effective deterrent. Are there any plans to revive the online gallery?
LK: We’re looking at that right now, and whether it’s going to come back in the form it was in before, or whether there will some modifications, we’re still discussing that. We haven’t looked at the statistics to see how effective the program was, but we definitely got a lot of feedback. It became more of an entertainment value thing.
HM: What would have to happen for that to be reinstated?
LK: We want to cover all the legal issues first, to make sure we’re within our legal right to do that. We’re examining a range of programs.
HM: Nationally, there’s been debate about when it’s acceptable for officers to use a Taser to subdue someone. What kind of discussions have you had within the department about the use of potentially dangerous tools such as Tasers?
LK: With any weapon or self-defense tactics that we use, we’re constantly evaluating to make sure we’re not abusing the privilege, and not harming the public. Nationally, I know there’s been some discussion on the subject of Tasers, but it hasn’t really become an issue here in Honolulu. We have a use-of-force policy in place. And any time an officer deploys a Taser, or even brings it out and has it visible, the officer is required to submit a report. We take a close look to see if they were justified, and if not, we conduct an investigation.
HM: In five years, how will you measure your success?
LK: The last step of this five-year strategic plan is to measure our progress in 2015. Along the way, we’re going to assess, to see if we’re going in the right direction. We want to lower crime rates, but we also want to measure the level of fear in the community. Here’s an example: if we’re responding to speeding violations, and last month we gave 100 citations, and this month we give 200 citations. That’s great, but the question is really, did this reduce the number of accidents? Did it make the streets safer?