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Editor’s Note: This article is the third in a series investigating how the Honolulu Police Department enforces Hawaii prostitution laws. Read our related coverage:
Five years ago, vice officers with the Honolulu Police Department arrested prostitutes and johns at a rate of more than one a day. In 2007, police made 477 prostitution arrests.
But that number has declined dramatically in the years since: Police made less than half as many arrests in 2011 as they did five years ago, a Civil Beat investigation found.
The data compiled by Civil Beat provides an overview of how police enforce prostitution laws and whether their efforts combat human trafficking. In 12 months, police made less than 1 percent of prostitution arrests on a weekend and arrested just one pimp, according to Civil Beat’s investigation.
Among our other key findings:
Human trafficking became a hot button issue last year at the Hawaii Legislature as lawmakers passed the state’s first anti-human trafficking law. Hawaii was one of the last states in the country to do so.
Because prostitution is often directly linked to sex trafficking, for one year Civil Beat tracked prostitution arrests through the daily blotter, a public document that lists every adult arrest on Oahu.
Honolulu police refused repeated requests for a sit-down interview, and took questions exclusively via email. Officials declined to explain why prostitution arrests have declined each year.
Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro cautioned against reading too much into the numbers.
“Just because there’s a decline doesn’t mean there’s a lack of enforcement,” he said.
The department had no explanation for why its officers made no prostitution arrests on a Saturday and just two on a Sunday. It also did not answer questions about whether its officers work on weekends. The department explained the single pimp arrest by saying such cases are difficult to investigate.
“We do know that crime generally is going down,” said Amy Farrell, Associate Director for Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice, which collects data on human trafficking cases for the federal government. “But the prostitution market is a very different phenomenon. We don’t always see those two going hand in hand.”
|Year||Number of Prostitution Arrests|
Source: 2010 Uniform Crime Report — Hawaii [pdf]
Prostitution is covered under Hawaii Revised Statutes, Part 1 of Section 712.
Honolulu police arrest suspects using the statutes covering prostitution, promoting prostitution and street solicitation. But getting a full picture of how they enforce the law is difficult, in part because the law does not distinguish between a prostitute and a john. While police may distinguish between johns, prostitutes and pimps internally, they do not share that information publicly.
To get a full picture, Civil Beat began tracking prostitution arrests for a one-year period beginning Feb. 1, 2011.
In that time, police made 214 prostitution-related arrests. That’s an average of 18 arrests per month. Five years ago, the department averaged 40 arrests a month.
Police made the fewest arrests — just seven — in July.
|Month||Number of Arrests|
Criminologists who study human trafficking say that catching pimps and traffickers, and identifying human trafficking victims in the process, requires police to adopt a different mindset.
In Honolulu, prostitution is handled by the Narcotics/Vice Division, which is staffed by 90 officers, according to the department. Their jurisdiction is all of Oahu. But prostitution arrests have been concentrated in two main areas: downtown Honolulu and Waikiki.
When asked where and how vice officers are assigned, a police spokeswoman wrote: “They work out of multiple locations, including Alapai (downtown) headquarters, and on various shifts.”
Civil Beat shared its findings with former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper.
His reaction to Honolulu’s staff of 90 officers in Narcotics/Vice?
“Big. It sounds very big to me,” Stamper said. “That’s certainly not an unreasonable number for the population they serve, if in fact they are addressing vice and narcotics issues outside the city of Honolulu.”
But given that almost all arrests are concentrated in just two areas, Stamper said he thought the number of arrests seemed low for that many vice officers.
“If their beat is the entire island that’s not an unusual number. But if they’re assigned to just those two geographical areas … that almost sounds like saturation.”
The police blotter, which lists the name of an arresting officer for each suspect, contained 25 different names of officers who made prostitution arrests.
But Civil Beat’s analysis shows that in one year, six officers logged 20 or more arrests. They made 70 percent of the department’s arrests.
Two officers made more than 30 arrests, while 11 officers made just one arrest, according to the blotter.
|Area||Number of Arrests|
Stamper said it’s not uncommon to see arrests clustered in some areas but completely absent from others. It’s called a “tolerance policy,” he said.
There were no arrests in Windward Oahu, the Leeward Coast, the North Shore, or Wahiawa.
“Based on what you’re telling me it sounds like the tolerance policy in those areas is greater. The tolerance is greater than it is in downtown areas or the other areas where these arrests are being made,” Stamper said.
View 2011 Honolulu Prostitution Arrests in a full screen map
Soliciting a prostitute in Hawaii is a petty misdemeanor, with the same penalties as shoplifting, disorderly conduct and riding a bicycle on a sidewalk.
The maximum fine for someone convicted of a petty misdemeanor in Hawaii is $1,000, but there’s a legal exception made for johns, who face a lower mandatory fine of $500. Convicted first-offender johns also face up to 30 days in jail. But most first time offenders take what’s known as a Deferred Acceptance of Guilty Plea or Nolo Contendere Plea. In most cases, this means charges will be dismissed and removed from their record after six months so long as the defendant stays out of trouble.
The law does not discriminate between johns and prostitutes. The police arrest log lists only the charge administered, and does not indicate whether an arrestee was a prostitute or customer.
During the one-year period Civil Beat analyzed, the majority of those arrested — 173 out of 214 — were charged with prostitution. Police made 40 arrests for street solicitation. One arrestee was a pimp.
Tracking what happens in each case isn’t easy. Case files and court minutes for petty misdemeanor cases are kept separately at District Court.
And even when charges are filed, cases are often continued for months before they go to trial. Some don’t even make it that far and are dismissed because the state asks for too many delays.
On February 15, a district judge was still hearing a case stemming from an arrest that occurred in June 2011. That day, two women arrested for prostitution — one in June, one in October — were scheduled for trial. But the state was not ready to proceed. They needed more time to subpoena a retired HPD officer to testify as a witness. Instead, the judge dismissed the charges against the women.
Kaneshiro says such dismissals are rare and that his office plans to refile the charges.
More than half of all prostitution arrests involved women. This differs from national trends. According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, national crime data from 13 states found slightly more arrests of males for prostitution than females.
|Age Range||Number of Female Arrests|
Of the eight female teens arrested, four were 18 years old and four were 19 years old.
|Age Range||Number of Arrests|
Of the male teens arrested, two were 18 years old, one was 19.
To read the police blotter for the 12 months examined by Civil Beat, click here.
—Nanea Kalani and Robert Brown contributed to this report
Coming tomorrow: Did police identify human trafficking victims among the women arrested for prostitution?.