'Trust is being built’: Special police unit charged with helping homeless to expand islandwide

Officers are being hired for the new unit now.

'Trust is being built’: Special police unit charged with helping homeless to expand islandwide

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Constant complaints about squatters ― along with crime and conflicts at encampments ― put a big strain on the understaffed Honolulu Police Department.

So top brass at HPD are pushing to expand a brand new and innovative unit that deals exclusively with the homeless.

Right now, the unit’s focus is urban Honolulu. The short-term plan: Take it islandwide.

To make that happen, the department is looking to hire 10 new officers.

Instead of just telling campers to move along, they’ll be trained to steer people toward the help they need to stabilize their lives.

“We’re not criminalizing homelessness in any way,” said deputy Chief John McCarthy. “What we’re trying to do is get them the help they need but at the same time maintain public safety.”

Over the summer, HPD launched its Community Outreach Unit.

Currently made up of just four officers, the team responds to complaints at encampments, typically in the urban core. They also work alongside homeless outreach.

“We did expect it to be successful. We definitely didn’t understand how quickly successful it would be,” said Kimo Carvalho, spokesman for the state’s largest homeless service provider, the Institute for Human Services.

He said together the agencies have been able to provide hundreds of people with basic medical care, shelter and drug treatment.

“They’re looking at it as a new experience that’s very tailored to their needs and that’s really where the trust is beginning to be built. That’s also why it’s so effective,” said Carvalho.

McCarthy said expanding the unit will also help other sections in the police department work more efficiently.

“It frees up patrol officers to do what they need to do. Crime enforcement, traffic enforcement, public safety. Things a policeman should be doing,” said McCarthy.

HPD is asking for the money to fill those positions in its next budget.

But it’s also looking for good candidates for the unit now ― among new hires ― to fill current vacancies.

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