Relations with HPD still a work in progress
By Mark Platte
When Louis Kealoha was selected as Honolulu's new police chief in November, many in the news media, myself included, looked forward to a new relationship with HPD, which had been notoriously secretive and obstructionist when it came to providing even the most basic kind of information.
Relations between The Advertiser and HPD hit a low with the Boisse Correa administration as we reported extensively about how Correa was running the department from his home in Hawai'i Kai after several back surgeries. His bosses — members of the Police Commission — didn't even know he was working from home until The Advertiser wrote about it. In retaliation, the chief asked his underlings to demand that we take our law enforcement reporter off the beat. We refused.
Chief Kealoha's appointment was encouraging and in early February, I met with him to get his take on what media relations would look like in the future. He pledged "transparent and open communications" and said he was fully aware that "it had been challenging for reporters in the past" to get information.
I could tell he was overwhelmed by the demands of the new job and he admitted as much, saying it was a "steep learning curve" moving from captain to chief. He readily acknowledged that he was not aware of all the responsibility that had been foisted upon him in his new role and I admired his honesty.
It was clear that he had been too busy to formulate a strategy for dealing with the news media, had not yet scheduled sessions to meet with reporters on a regular basis or broadly solicited their views about what they would like to see done differently.
We asked Kealoha to meet with his technical folks to talk about what it would take to collect crime statistics for a database on our Web site that would allow citizens to figure out where crimes had occurred in their neighborhood.
HPD does include crime maps at www.honolulupd.org, but it takes some work to find them. You have to find your patrol district and sector and then scroll through a list of auto theft recoveries, burglaries, graffiti reports, motor vehicle thefts, other thefts and so-called UEMVs (unauthorized entry of a motor vehicle.)
Compare what HPD provides with the following links: www.Everyblock.com, which has crime information for various cities and blasts weekly e-mail information to residents who sign up for the free service. Example: (http://chicago.everyblock.com/crime).
www.CrimeReports.com is an effort to map crime information both for the public and law enforcement agencies. (www.crimereports.com) Hawai'i, Alaska, Montana and North Dakota are the only states missing from the nationwide index.
We were disappointed when an HPD spokeswoman said that Kealoha, after expressing a willingness to at least look at this issue and have us run through some options, suggested we simply link to the HPD Web site.
"We appreciate The Honolulu Advertiser's offer to work with us on this initiative but, as mentioned in our meeting, there were many details not discussed which would require review by our staff and legal counsel," Kealoha wrote. "We want to emphasize that working with the media on the crime mapping strategy was just one option."
He mentioned exploring other areas such as "evaluating cutting-edge technology, i.e., Crime View/Reports, best practices by other law enforcement agencies and, at a minimum, a link from all interested media Web sites to ours."
I take Kealoha at his word that he is looking to be more open with the media. In our view, Honolulu residents are intensely interested in crime statistics and they should be presented in a manner that's easy to access and easy to read.
We are asking the state's Office of Information Practices to rule that crime data must be provided to us in digital form — a request the HPD denied — so we can put together a searchable database on our site. Rather than wait for a state ruling months or years from now, we would hope that the HPD would help us help the public.
Mark Platte is senior vice president and editor of The Advertiser. Reach him at 525-8080 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow his Twitter updates at http://twitter.com/markplatte.