More than 70 people have been arrested since July in connection with the city’s Weed and Seed program in Chinatown.
At a Wednesday press conference on the program’s progress, Interim Police Chief Rade Vanic said that 74 individuals have been arrested as part of the effort to reduce crime in Chinatown. The majority of the charges have been drug-related, although others have been arrested for criminal trespassing and destruction of property.
Over two dozen of those arrested were homeless people, according to Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steven Alm, who touted the program’s “weeding” aspect – a focus on the criminal elements in the area — after a 20-year hiatus.
“HPD is going to be arresting people,” Alm said. “We’re going to be prosecuting them and we are going to make this area safe again.”
People charged in connection with the program were taken to Oahu Community Correctional Center — where capacity has been over 90% since the program began on July 17. At the jail, those arrested were screened and assessed before being placed into either a drug-treatment program, mental health program or both.
“Covid is a challenge to the court system as well, but we’re not allowing Covid to stop us from doing the right thing here,” Alm said. “And I think you can already see that Chinatown looks better.”
Alm added that there are no unique penalties imposed on those arrested in connection with the program except that bail may be set higher. However, he said the arrests provide the “quick attention” needed in the area.
“We’re going to work with HPD,” he said. “They are going to be identifying mentally ill folks that are causing community problems, maybe not breaking other laws but probably causing disorderly conduct and other stuff.”
To increase their presence in the area, HPD committed extra resources to Chinatown, including bike patrols, the community policing team and Fourth Watch officers — newly recruited probationary officers assigned to foot patrol, traffic enforcement and undercover enforcement.
Crime rates in nearly every category dropped across Honolulu last year, according to HPD’s latest annual report. The total number of people arrested fell by approximately 27% between 2019 and 2020. Drug-related arrests – those the Weed and Seed program is now focusing on — fell by nearly a third during that same time.
The city is currently assessing crime metrics to gauge the effectiveness of the program and will also do so again in two years, Alm said.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who joined Alm, Vanic, and council member Carol Fukunaga on Wednesday, said that he was pleased by the progress the program was making.
“We are going to make a difference,” Blangiardi said. “This time around, we are really going to make this happen.”
The “seed” portion of the program is about reinvigorating the area with social programs to build the community, Alm said. The Weed and Seed program was originally implemented in 1998 and the first partner was HPD. The “weed” aspect was carried out by police for a few years but was discontinued for about two decades while the “seed” aspect continued.
“The police department kept on with it for a couple years, but you’ve got to have the teamwork of prosecutors and police and community working together,” Alm said. “The seed components are still in place, so it’s a question of marrying them up.”
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