Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a series investigating how the Honolulu Police Department enforces Hawaii prostitution laws. Read our related coverage:

Human Trafficking bill supporters

In one year, Honolulu police made more than 200 prostitution arrests. But only one of those arrests involved a pimp — and he was never charged.

That finding comes from Civil Beat’s investigation into how Honolulu police enforce Hawaii’s prostitution laws. To determine the scope of sex trafficking in Honolulu, Civil Beat tracked prostitution arrests for one year through the daily booking log, a public document that lists basic information about every arrest on Oahu.

The Honolulu Police Department confirmed that it had arrested just one pimp in 2011. The department said it also arrested just one pimp in 2010.

The scope of human trafficking in Hawaii isn’t precisely known. Yet it’s considered serious enough that Honolulu is one of 39 cities with a federally-funded government human trafficking task force. Federal prosecutors here have also filed criminal charges against alleged labor traffickers, including the Global Horizons case, billed as the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history, involving more than 600 Thai workers.

A former Seattle police chief says the single pimp arrest in a year indicates that prostitution isn’t a priority for the department — and by proxy, neither is human trafficking.

“I’m kind of amazed at that. A single pimp arrest in Hawaii? In Honolulu? And island wide, in one year?” said Norm Stamper. “I trust there’s an explanation for it, but I certainly couldn’t give it to you.”

“It’s safe to assume that if there’s only been one pimp arrest per year for the last two years, the department is not targeting pimps — which means they’re not targeting traffickers, because by definition that’s what most of them do,” he said.

Honolulu police refused repeated requests for a sit-down interview. They would only answer questions via email.

When we asked why it did not make more arrests of pimps, a spokeswoman answered: “HPD’s anti-prostitution operations are continuous and employ various strategies.”

She continued: “The laws addressing the promotion of prostitution are difficult to enforce because these cases generally require the cooperation and testimony of prostitutes, most of whom are unwilling and/or afraid to do so.”

Honolulu prosecutors agree with police: Turning prostitutes against their pimps isn’t easy.

City prosecutors point to the recent sentencing of convicted pimp Joseph Vaimili to 40 years in prison as a rare success.

Megan Kau, the former prosecutor who handled the case, recounted how difficult it was to get the victim, a former prostitute, to testify.

“She was scared,” Kau told Civil Beat. “She was at home with her parents on the mainland where it was safe. She didn’t want to come here (for trial) because he was here. It was really a struggle to get her here.”

To help address this problem, anti-human trafficking advocates last year drummed up enough support in the Legislature to pass a law that made prostitutes eligible for witness protection. But Honolulu police don’t appear to be making use of the law.

“The new law has not had an impact on investigations,” police said.

Last year, the Legislature also passed tougher sentences for pimping. It’s now a Class A felony with a mandatory 20-year sentence.

Lone Pimp

The lone pimp arrested in 2011 was Isaiah Black, 26, of Mililani. He was arrested for promoting prostitution on May 24, in Red Hill, a residential neighborhood adjacent to Tripler Medical Center. It was a Tuesday, minutes before midnight.

But the case never made it to court. He was released before charges were filed, pending further investigation. When Civil Beat asked the prosecutor’s office about the case, officials followed up with police.

“We had called the police department to inquire about the case, find out where it is. It’s currently being investigated,” said Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. “My understanding is that they have to interview several witnesses. It’s something that’s viable, but I can’t really comment publicly on it. But it is being investigated.”

He noted that prosecutors have a two-year statute of limitations to file charges.

The lone pimp arrested in 2010 was 26-year-old Mukadin Daquan Gordon. He pleaded guilty to several counts of sexual assault, kidnapping and promoting prostitution and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September 2011, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Besides Black, the remaining arrests in the 12 months examined by Civil Beat were of johns and prostitutes.

A national expert said that’s typical of how most vice departments work.

“This looks like kind of the classic low hanging fruit. It’s easy to make arrests of individuals who are either posting ads or walking on the streets,” said Amy Farrell, Associate Director for Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice. The institute gathers national data and information for a federally funded human trafficking reporting program.

To catch pimps or traffickers, police need to adopt a different investigative approach, she said. Police need to be building relationships with informants and infiltrating networks where people are vulnerable to pimps and traffickers. It takes more effort than pretending to be buying sex and then arresting the prostitute.

“It requires a different strategy than what we think of as traditional vice strategy, which is to let prostitutes continue but kind of control where it happens and try to disrupt markets,” Farrell said. “But that does not fundamentally change conditions in a community that put people at risk of victimization.”

To do that, she said, “You have to be willing to arrest pimps.”

—Nanea Kalani and Robert Brown contributed to this report

Coming tomorrow: An overview of Civil Beat’s year-long investigation into how Honolulu police enforce prostitution laws.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author