Honolulu Police Commission members resign from oversight panel

HONOLULU — Two members of the Honolulu Police Commission have resigned after voicing frustration at the limited power the commission has to oversee the police department and its chief.

Former federal prosecutor Loretta Sheehan and retired Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Steven Levinson stepped down from the seven-member, volunteer commission, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

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The commission has been unwilling to use “its bully pulpit to do investigations and shed light on problems that it believes are taking place within the department,” Levinson said.

“For a so-called civilian oversight body, the commission has very little oversight power with teeth,” Levinson said.

Sheehan and Levinson were instrumental in the selection of Susan Ballard as the city’s police chief in October 2017.

“At the heart of it, the current commission is very focused on supporting the chief of police,” Sheehan said. “That is not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. It’s just that you don’t need me for that.”

Both the commissioners said that despite some disagreements with Ballard, they think she is doing a good job.

Ballard has implemented an officer body camera program, developed homeless outreach and navigation centers, rebuilt the crime lab, and restored department morale, Sheehan said.

“There’s always improvements to be made and progress to be sought, but she’s done a lot in her short tenure,” Sheehan said. “Absolutely, over the years, Sue and I have had our disagreements, but any disagreements shouldn’t detract from her accomplishments, not one bit.”

Sheehan was chairwoman and Levinson was vice chairman when they led a successful effort to make the chief’s annual evaluation more detailed and transparent.

Sheehan, 59, called her time on the commission “a profound experience” and “deeply satisfying to challenge the status quo,” but said she could not continue indefinitely.

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“There comes a time to move on and let somebody else do the job,” Sheehan said.

Levinson, who will be 74 soon, said he is battling prostate cancer while he and his wife prepare for a possible move to a senior living community, which are the key issues driving his departure.

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