The Honolulu Police Department is spending some of its federal relief money to extend the hours for gun registration and permit processing, Chief Susan Ballard told the Honolulu Police Commission on Wednesday.

Starting this week, people with appointments could come in from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and appointment slots were almost immediately filled for the next 90 days, Ballard said.

“All that is being funded by the CARES money,” she said, adding that the department is considering spending even more CARES Act dollars on personnel to process firearm registrations on the weekend.

Honolulu Police Dept Chief Susan Ballard gestures during domestic violence press conference held at HPD.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said the demand for guns this year is “overwhelming.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ballard didn’t say how much CARES money HPD has spent on gun registration and permitting activities, and the police department did not provide the information when asked about it after the meeting.

Data the city released on Wednesday, which lists expenditures of $50,000 and up, doesn’t specifically mention gun registrations.

The police chief said the increased personnel was necessary because HPD has experienced a nearly 40% increase in requests for permits, which are required for firearm purchases, and a 14% increase in registrations to be a gun owner. The same trend is playing out nationally, the chief noted.

“The sheer numbers are just overwhelming us at this point in time,” she said. “It could be because the whole COVID thing is just scaring people. And we also see that every time there is a possibility of a Democratic president, then we see a huge increase in people trying to purchase firearms.” 

Data on Honolulu CARES spending below $50,000 also shows HPD paid a local data firm more than  $28,000 to redesign the HPD website. Ballard highlighted that expenditure at the commission meeting.

“Our old website was really antiquated,” she said. “We’re trying to push out more information, that type of thing.”

Ballard didn’t specify how the extension of firearms registration and permitting hours or the website overhaul were related to the pandemic, which is a required element for CARES spending.

As of this week, the city had spent only 28% of its $387 million.

The CARES spending data released by the city on Wednesday also shows HPD has spent $16.5 million on overtime from the beginning of the pandemic in March through September. Overtime totaled $518,485 in August alone, when officers were aggressively enforcing the mayor’s pandemic orders. Honolulu also spent $546,806 on 45 ATVs and UTVs that officers could ride while patrolling for pandemic rule-breakers.

CARES dollars were also spent on trailers to transport the ATVs, Gary Kurokawa, the mayor’s chief of staff told City Council members on Wednesday.

The spending breakdown shows the purchase of 18 utility trailers, which cost a total of nearly $80,000, according to HPD. Other CARES expenditures by HPD include $1.7 million on various trucks and more than $787,000 on radios.

Meanwhile, money from Honolulu’s $25 million Hardship Relief Fund is still slow to get into the hands of people who need it. The program, which opened in May, can cover rent, utility and child care costs up to $2,500 a month.

The fund is the only hope for home-based businesses in need of assistance who don’t qualify for the city’s small businesses relief fund because they lack a commercial address.

About $7 million has been disbursed so far, according to Rebecca Soon, deputy director of the Department of Community Services.

Households that have completed applications are due about that much as well, for a total of $14 million, she told City Council members on Wednesday. Another 8,000 families are working on completing their applications, she said, which should result in spending the fund down entirely.

“We’re getting very close to the $25 million,” Soon said.

Aloha United Way, the main contractor in charge of processing applications and disbursing the funds, recently stopped accepting new applications because the organization is overloaded.

Honolulu has until the end of the year to spend nearly $277 million in CARES funds, the city’s dashboard shows. 

As of this week, the city had spent only 28% of its $387 million. About three-quarters of the money is committed, meaning under contract, and 94% is allocated, or earmarked for a specific purpose.

According to a spending breakdown shared with the council, some of the larger expenditures in the past few weeks include:

  • $10.8 million for the establishment of a Culture and Arts Relief and Recovery Fund that offers grants up to $50,000 to qualifying nonprofits and businesses.
  • Nearly $2 million for hotels in Waikiki for quarantine and isolation.
  • An added $78 million to the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund, for a total of $135 million.
  • Over $2.5 million to implement an innovation fund managed by Hawaii Investment Ready, a nonprofit that will disburse grants to “Honolulu-based small businesses addressing COVID-19 relief efforts.”
  • $10 million for the city to partner with research companies and assist the Department of Health with contact tracing. The company will provide 80 to 250 contact tracers.
  • $1.2 million to Anthology Marketing Group for advertising of public health information, on top of a previous $2 million allotment.

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