Federal CARES Act dollars will fund new effort to beef up police presence in Chinatown

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Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 5:37 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 9, 2021 at 5:25 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new effort to beef up the police presence in Chinatown will be paid for using federal CARES Act funds.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he approved $2 million of CARES Act appropriations to pay for the overtime of officers working foot patrols.

The overtime is set to begin later this month. Blangiardi said the six additional officers and a supervisor will staff four, six-hour shifts in a bid to curb crime.

The area targeted is from River to Bishop Streets and then King to Beretania Streets.

Chinatown Enforcement
Chinatown Enforcement(None)

Blangiardi said HPD identified this as a hotspot.

“Our intent here right now is to prevent illegal behavior, whether it’s illegal drug trading or even use on the streets,” Blangiardi said, adding videos provided to his office also showed lewd acts in public.

“What’s happening in Chinatown is not acceptable, it has to come to an end,” he said.

But Honolulu police brass said the primary goal of the enforcement effort wasn’t to fight crime, but fight COVID-19.

“We’re putting more officers to help mitigate and enforce COVID-19 restrictions, laws and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and variants,” Acting deputy Chief Ryan Nishibun told Honolulu police commissioners Wednesday.

Whatever the goal, state Sen. Karl Rhoads, who lives in Chinatown, welcomes the added police presence.

“We’re happy to have them. I think it’s a good use of CARES money,” said Rhoads, who added that fewer customers are visiting Chinatown as the criminal element grows.

Blangiardi added the enforcement won’t just move homeless from one part of the city to another.

“If in fact laws are broken there will be arrests made and we’re already working to make sure these people don’t show up back on the streets the next day,” he said.

The federal government last month approved the use of CARES money for police resources, like more beat patrols. The city was putting the Chinatown plan together when the announcement was made.

Rhoads did stress that more outreach should also be done in the area as he believes many of the homeless suffer from mental illness and drug addiction.

The American Civil Liberties Union agreed that some of the CARES money should be used for more treatment options, service providers and housing vouchers, not enforcement.

ACLU Director Joshua Wisch said an enforcement-only approach doesn’t work. “The number of people unsheltered went up as a result of this exact approach to dealing with this,” he said.

Chinatown homeless enforcement
Chinatown homeless enforcement(None)

Wisch also was concerned because HPD faced heavy criticism for its spending of CARES Act funds last year. Both equipment purchases and overtime payments have led to city and federal audits.

In February, then-HPD Chief Susan Ballard said the department’s own investigation found that 263 officers violated the overtime policy restricting extra duty to 24 hours per week.

“We appear to now be doubling down,” Wisch said, about the new use of CARES money to fund overtime for the Chinatown initiative.

In a statement to Hawaii News Now, an HPD spokesperson said the department is changing the way officers sign up for new overtime assignments.

That includes a new software program that does not allow officers to get more than 24 hours a week.

In addition, the spokesperson said, a senior officer will be checking the assignment schedule on a daily basis. “Last year’s sign-up was not computerized or centralized and was processed by each district individually,” the spokesperson said.

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