Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi wants the Honolulu Police Department to feel empowered to enforce the law to create a safer Chinatown community.

Speaking at a luncheon fundraiser Thursday for Weed and Seed Hawaii, the mayor said his administration’s initiative to increase police presence in Chinatown began this week to help restore community trust.

“On the illegal behaviors, we’re going to play tough — really tough,” Blangiardi said.

Keynote speaker Mayor Rick Blangiardi answers questions during a Weed and Seed Hawaii fundraiser luncheon on Thursday. Lauren Teruya/Civil Beat /2021

Over the past few months, the mayor said he’s seen a significant increase in crime, drug abuse and obscenity throughout Chinatown, noting that criminals would start experiencing harsher consequences.

The nonprofit Weed and Seed describes “weeding” as law enforcement efforts to remove violent criminals and drug dealers away from the target area. “Seeding” includes human services, neighborhood revitalization and education efforts for future crime prevention.

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said there’s a symbiotic relationship. Without police enforcement, he said lawbreakers have no incentive to accept help and intervention.

“We try to lock up the violent, dangerous ones and the ones who won’t stop stealing, but at the same time that’s a minority,” Alm said. “The majority can and should be placed on probation, and we should help them succeed.”

The current focus of the Weed and Seed program is Chinatown but there are plans to expand it. Courtesy: Honolulu Prosecutor/2021

Focusing mainly on Chinatown, people who are arrested in that area will face a higher bail than if they committed the same crime in a different location on the island. Criminals are also subject to geographic restrictions. Lawbreakers are banned from returning to the area, similar to a restraining order.

In addition to their strong support of weeding, both Blangiardi and Alm said seeding was an equally important component. As part of the seeding effort, volunteers at Weed and Seed work with HPD to teach youth about the law, internet safety and drug prevention.

“We’ve got about 6,000 homeless people, 3,000 unsheltered, and probably about 75% of the people who are unsheltered are dealing with serious drug and alcohol abuse, so there’s a need to be compassionate toward that,” Blangiardi said.

He referenced the new Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement program that will hire 15 to 20 social workers to work with non-violent, homeless-related calls as a “seeding” solution. The CORE program is set to start in September.

Gale Braceros, executive president of Weed and Seed Hawaii, said it’s been a huge community effort to get the funds needed to continue the initiative, which was at risk of shutting down in May due to a lack of funds.

Prominent banks throughout downtown came together to fund two surveys conducted by the Anthology Group. The first survey collected 400 responses from people in the Chinatown area on their perceived safety and concerns. The second survey will take place later to track the effectiveness and progress of the initiative.

“This is an opportunity to assess the current state, what’s possible, what’s needed and what’s desired,” Bank of Hawaii Foundation President Momi Akimseu said. Bank of Hawaii is just one of many participating banks that donated money to support the community survey.

The Weed and Seed initiative has three main sites: Kalihi-Palama-Chinatown-Ala Moana-Sheridan; Waipahu; and Ewa-Ewa Beach. Current efforts are focused on the first site but the nonprofit plans to expand it in the future.

Thursday’s fundraiser was $100 per person at the Sugarcane restaurant in Kapolei.

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