HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the city's homeless crackdown, particularly in Waikiki, new laws that ban sitting or lying on commercial area sidewalks have gotten the most attention, but far from the most use. A Hawaii News Now review of citations issued by police to keep people out of prohibited areas revealed that enforcement of park rules is used much more often.
"The sit-lie ordinances and the closed parks are very controversial measures because they're clearly designed to target a certain population," said Jack Tonaki, the Hawaii state public defender.
Police issued 358 sit-lie citations during the past year. During that same period, officers gave out 6,134 park rules tickets. The vast majority of the park citations involved being in parks after closing hours, with 4,494 issued in the Honolulu district which includes Waikiki, Downtown and Ala Moana. The Waianae district, which also has a significant homeless problem, came in second with 1,037 park hours tickets issued. Other districts posted much smaller numbers.
Another striking element in the data provided by the courts system is the large number of people issued multiple citations, including three repeat offenders who received more than 60 tickets each. A review of their court records indicates that judges don't usually fine them since they can't pay, but instead repeatedly order short jail sentences, usually from one to five days.
Officials at the Office of the Public Defender are also concerned about unintended consequences of park rules. Some visitors and locals have received citations that need to be settled in court for walking on the beach overnight or using a park restroom after hours.
"There's some that decide, 'I don't want an attorney. I don't want to spend the money for an attorney' and then they'll pay the fine, usually it's a $50 fine. But it's a petty misdemeanor, so that goes on their record," explained Jerry Villanueva, District Court supervisor for the Office of the Public Defender.
Honolulu Police Department officials pointed out that sit-lie only covers certain parts of the island, while park closures are across Oahu. A city spokesman said officers first give a warning for sit-lie violations and only issue a citation when people fail to comply.