Lawmakers: Spike in arrests linked to lack of safety net programs

Lawmakers: Spike in arrests linked to lack of safety net programs

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since 2013, the city's policy of so-called "compassionate disruption" has increased the number of homeless sweeps on Oahu, spurring scores of people on the streets to shuffle from one community to the next.

And state Sen. Will Espero thinks the sweeps have also contributed to an uptick in arrests on Oahu.

Last year, officers made more than 16,000 arrests. Some 43 percent of those arrests -- 6,880 in all -- involved homeless people, the Honolulu Police Department confirms.

That compares to 10,824 arrests in 2013. Three years ago, 4,330 arrests (or 40 percent) involved people on the streets.

"The sweeps at times are useful, but if there is somebody with a fragile mind or in a delicate state, obviously these sweeps can have a devastating effect," said Espero, vice chairman of the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee.

The latest statistics also show that three out of four homeless detainees that came through Honolulu Police Department's central cell block last year were mentally ill or high on drugs.

"Many times for these individuals nothing happens," Espero said. "They might be in for a weekend or a week or a month or whatever the case might be and in that time you really can't begin anybody on a regimen or treatment and expect them to get better."

State Rep. Della Belatti, chairwoman of the House Health Committee, said the new figures show that more needs to be done to bolster the safety net for people in homelessness and those struggling with mental illness.

"I think the sweeps highlighted the problem of the lack of care," she said, adding that it's a situation with no quick fix.

During the Great Recession, Hawaii slashed its mental health services and many programs haven't been rebuilt.

"It takes a commitment of different community partners," Belatti said. "It takes the rebuilding of resources we lost. It takes developing a workforce. That does not happen overnight."

Mayor Kirk Caldwell declined to speak on camera about the HPD figures. Through his staff, he said he wasn't prepared to talk about them until after reviewing them with HPD.

In a statement released at 4 p.m., Caldwell said, "A significant number of persons who are arrested suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse. The Honolulu Police Department must continue doing what it can to ensure that these individuals get appropriate care and treatment."

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