The Honolulu Police Department’s use of pandemic relief money on overtime, trucks, all-terrain vehicles, a robot dog and more was all legally acceptable, the federal government has determined.

The U.S. Treasury Office of the Inspector General launched a review of the city’s CARES Act spending after it received a complaint alleging potential misuse of the money. That came after several of the police department’s expenditures drew criticism from the public at a time when the city was struggling to deliver rent relief to unemployed residents.

However, the office concluded earlier this year that all of the Honolulu expenditures in question were above-board, according to documents it released to Civil Beat on Thursday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The federal government limited CARES spending to “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency,” and Honolulu met that standard.

“We reviewed the supporting documentation provided by Honolulu and determined no further follow-up is required,” the office wrote on May 5. “The supporting documentation is appropriate and sufficient to determine eligible use of (Coronavirus Relief Fund) proceeds.”

Honolulu Police Department officer rides a all terrain vehicle along Kalakaua Avenue.
The Honolulu Police Department got more CARES money than the city’s rent relief fund. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

HPD spent over $27 million in CARES Act money, according to the city’s response to the office.

In addition to spending over $13 million on overtime, the police department purchased 100 vehicles totaling over $3.6 million, including 40 ATVs, 10 Chevy Colorado pick-up trucks, six F150 pick-up trucks and two Mitsubishi box trucks. The city submitted justifications for each purchase, the documents show.

The city said the ATVs and other similar vehicles were “necessary to allow HPD to effectively enforce beach and park closures and restrictions.” Previously, HPD had only 22 operational ATVs to cover eight districts, the city said.

Two half-ton trucks HPD purchased were used for food distribution, its POST homeless encampment program, vaccine distribution and other pandemic-related efforts. The POST program also required additional pick-up trucks, passenger vans and box trucks to transport supplies, food and equipment, the city said.

HPD used federal pandemic relief funds to buy a robot dog similar to this one. The feds determined that the purchase was legitimate. Hawaii News Now

HPD also bought a training simulator for $118,000. The city said that was needed to train officers and recruits “while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection, and minimizing the risk of serious disruption to HPD operations.”

The Boston Dynamics robot dog, purchased for $150,045, was “necessary to allow for essential interactions” between police and homeless people in the POST program, the city stated. Specifically, the city said it was needed to perform contact-less temperature screenings, telemedicine, delivery of medical supplies and perimeter checks.

Despite the temperature-checking capabilities of the robot, named SPOT, the department said it also needed several dozen thermal imaging cameras and no-contact thermometers for the POST program.

The thermal imaging cameras “allow POST officers to maintain the integrity of the quarantine zone in total darkness and provides situational awareness to prevent unauthorized entry into the POST area, thereby protecting the health and safety of those at POST,” the city said.

The inspector general’s office also did not find fault with spending by other city departments. That included 11 rapid response vehicles for the Honolulu Fire Department, 27 Handivans for the Department of Transportation Services, 10 ambulances for the Emergency Services Department, a cyber security upgrade in the IT department and renovations to the public lobby of the Board of Water Supply to “limit access by the public to staff.”

Mayor Rick Blangiardi did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters said he is pleased the U.S. Treasury found that the city’s CARES money was spent on eligible expenditures.

“I am concerned, however, that the city intends to spend remaining CARES Act funds and (American Rescue Plan Act) monies on HPD overtime as opposed to allocating funds for immediate community aid and long-term revitalization of our local economy,” he said.

Help Power Local, Nonprofit News.

Across the nation and in Hawaii, news organizations are downsizing and closing their doors due to the ever-rising costs of keeping local journalism alive and well.

While Civil Beat has grown year over year, still only 1% of our readers are donors, and we need your help now more than ever.

Make a gift today of any amount, and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,500, thanks to a generous group of Civil Beat donors.

About the Author