On March 15, 2019, the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce invited the Hawaiʻi County Leadership to a luncheon focused on connecting the business community to the County. A panel of department heads along with Mayor Kim gave the audience an update on their activities and plans. The Chamber generated a list of questions for the panelists and audience members were encouraged to submit questions as well. We are very grateful to Police Chief Paul Ferreira for the responses you will find below.
This is in response to your March 21, 2019, request for our responses to the questions arising out of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, County of Hawai‘i Focus Luncheon that was held on March 15, 2019 at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.
The following are responses to those questions:
The community is concerned about enforcement when it comes to the homeless, especially in Kailua Village. For many, the problem seems to be getting worse. Can you tell us about overnight camping in public places? For example, the overnight camping that is being allowed on Alahou Street or overnight camping that is being allowed at Hale Halewai? Is this legal? If not, why is this being allowed?
First of all, we must remember being homeless is not a crime; although these individuals at times may be a nuisance, it is not a crime to be homeless. The Kona Community Policing Officers have been conducting enforcement on Alahou Street and at Hale Halawai. They have been staggering the days and times of enforcement to maximize their efforts in to catch the illegal campers. The Alahou Street campers were contacted and most have vacated the area. One issue that has been identified is that the laws regarding camping alongside the road is vague, and the Prosecutor’s Office has been contacted to determine what laws can be enforced.
Many in the community are very concerned with illegal activities in Kailua Village. What solutions would you support to address the illegal activities associated with the chronic homeless population in Kailua Village?
Not knowing specifically what illegal activities are being referenced in this question makes it difficult to address, in that some of the calls for service are due to homeless individuals just being a nuisance or, because of appearance, not wanted in the area. Albeit the case, we are open to working with the Kailua Village community on solutions on addressing what is perceived as problems. Our officers will respond and make arrest or issue citations for on-view criminal activity, such as consuming intoxicating beverages in public, violating park hours, harassment, illicit drug use, etc. However, some of what is being reported as criminal activity turns out not to be, such as a report of the homeless smoking marijuana because they are seen rolling a joint, but it turns out to be tobacco products. Or when the police receive a report of the homeless drinking in public because they are seen drinking out of a brown paper bag, which turns out to be water, juice or soda. And more often than not, the people who report these offenses do not want to get involved.
How are you addressing the lack of an adequate police presence in Kailua Village?
Currently, our department overall has a staffing shortage that we are aggressively addressing with new police recruit classes and on-going recruitment. For the most part, the Kona Community Policing Officers conducted these foot or bike patrols in Kailua Village; however, due to shortages at times, these officers must assist with the department’s core function of regular patrol duties. Our officers make an effort to be visible in the Kailua Village area during critical periods (i.e., special events, community functions, etc.) and will increase presence as our vacancies are filled.
Do you support having a dedicated police officer(s) for Kailua Village? Why or why not?
Our Kona Community Policing Officers are assigned to specific sectors, which includes an officer assigned to the Kailua Village area; however, they are also responsible for assisting in other areas. Additionally, at times due to staffing shortages, they also assist with the police department’s core function, which is regular patrol duties. All of our patrol officers assigned to the Kona District, not only the Community Policing Officers, are tasked with dealing with illegal activity in the Kailua Village Area.
What is the Community Police Program? Can this program help the business community with the problems associated with the chronic homeless population in Kailua Village?
Community Policing is basically a philosophy of policing in which police officers create partnerships with community groups in an effort to solve ongoing problems and crimes in their communities. Community police can assist in consulting with private security to help prevent crime. Community Policing Officers also conduct Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, meaning changing the environment in a way that will stop or deter criminal activity. For example, people congregate at the end of a street in the middle of the night because it’s dark there. Community Policing may be able to assist in requesting that a street light be installed. Community Policing is a very effective program when we are fully staffed.
Having a couple of officers walking the beat in Kona Village is a huge help. Why is that being cut back? Also, officers assigned to neighborhood watch is great!
Same as above, currently our department overall has a staffing shortage that we are aggressively addressing with new police recruit classes and on-going recruitment. For the most part, the Kona Community Policing Officers conducted these foot or bike patrols in Kailua Village; however, due to shortages at times, these officers must assist with the department’s core function of regular patrol duties. Our officers make an effort to be visible in the Kailua Village area during critical periods (i.e., special events, community functions, etc.) and will increase presence as our vacancies are filled.
Financial Institutions are required by law to report suspected elder abuses. The State APS is too busy to respond. What role does the Police Department have in responding to these reports? Old folks could be losing their life savings. Please help.
The State APS faxes copies of reports of elderly abuse to the Juvenile Aid Section. The Juvenile Aid Section of our Department also investigates elderly abuse cases to include financial crimes. As long as the victim is 60 years or older, or if the victim is mentally handicapped, the report is assigned to a detective who conducts an investigation. If the victim is less than 60, then the report is routed to Patrol who then conducts an investigation at that level. It should be noted that financial crimes involving the elderly more often than not has family members involved, and the victim generally does not want to pursue the investigation.
With rotating shifts, officers are required to report to work on a day shift after coming off an overnight shift, leading to potential fatigue issues that can be dangerous. Would the department consider altering shift change schedules to avoid this?
As we speak, the police department is looking at a 3-month rotation on a trial basis. This means that the Watch’s will remain on the same Watch for 3 months. Then after the 3 months the officers will rotate into the next shift after their days off. This will give the officers 2 days rest before going into their new shift. A conferral with the police union (SHOPO) will be held prior to approval.
Wouldn’t a recruitment be better if there were training options on the West Side? Any plans for a Police Academy here?
This is a discussion that we have had in the past and determined not to be a feasible option, both fiscally and in practice. Some of the specialized training the police recruits receive is dependent on a core group of instructors that are certified in certain areas, and having two separate academies would require those instructors to travel across the island that would incur travel/overtime expenses. The training of police recruits also involve instructors from agencies outside of the police department, and again having two separate training academies would incur additional expenses with regards to travel.
Police, can we have a law to keep pan-handlers from standing in the middle of the road and medians begging?
The police department is tasked with enforcing laws and ordinances; it is the Legislative Branch of government that is responsible for enacting laws. That being the case, this issue should be brought to the attention of your respective State and County legislators.
Police Chief: Would you be support of a dedicated community policing officer in Kailua Village to deal with the homeless issues and illegal activity?
Our Kona Community Policing Officers are assigned to specific sectors, which includes an officer assigned to Kailua Village area; however, they are also responsible for assisting in other areas. Additionally, at times due to staffing shortages, they also assist with the police department’s core function, which is regular patrol duties. All of our patrol officers assigned to the Kona District, not only the Community Policing Officers, are tasked with dealing with illegal activity in the Kailua Village area. The misperception is that there is a belief that being homeless is a crime, which it is not, nor are there any current statutes that prevent these individuals from being in a public place if no crime is being committed.
Now that our taxes have been increased in part to support our Police Department, what policies or directives are or have been issued to support them in efforts to deal with homeless from our public areas, specifically those that have been identified as vagrants or refusing assistance?
Being homeless, being in public areas, refusing public assistance does not constitute a crime, these are social issues. Law enforcement is tasked with enforcing laws, not enacting laws or ordinances; that is the role of the Legislative Branch of government.
More info on LEAD
LEAD is Hawai‘i County’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion which is spearheaded by the Big Island Substance Abuse Council. LEAD’s goal is to improve public safety and public order and to reduce the criminal behavior of people who participate in the program. It’s a community based diversion program for people whose criminal activity is due to behavioral health issues. Law enforcement is the primary portal for referrals into the program.
What can we do about homeless living on the side of the road and with camps on state, county and private lands?
Any homeless camps on State land require the intervention of State agencies (i.e., DLNR, Sheriffs, etc.), and our department does refer these matters when they arise to their attention. With regards to homeless individuals on County property, our officers continuously confront these parties and when appropriate take necessary action (i.e., citations and/or arrest) for criminal activity. Unfortunately there are no current laws that ban individuals from remaining in public areas, if not involved in criminal activity. For living or camping on private property, this requires the legal owner of the property to be involved before any action can be taken.
Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 961-2243.
PAUL K. FERREIRA