Better health through community The program launched in July and already, more than 70 have been arrested. Honolulu government leaders are trying the “Weed and Seed” approach again in Chinatown — but HPR's Noe Tanigawa reports cultural or historical factors may contribute to why illegal activities persist in Chinatown.
Weed and Seed
Weed and Seed has three key components: Weeding, Seeding, and Community Policing. Weeding includes law enforcement efforts to remove violent offenders, drug dealers, and other criminals from the target area through enforcement, adjudication, prosecution, and supervision efforts designed to target, apprehend, and incapacitate. Seeding includes human services and neighborhood revitalization efforts to prevent and deter further crime. Community policing involves proactive police-community engagement to develop solutions to violent and drug-related crime. Activities concentrate on increasing police visibility and developing cooperative relationships between the police and citizenry in the target areas through foot patrols, problem-solving, victim referrals to support services, and community relations activities. A special emphasis is placed on addressing the needs of crime victims and minority communities that are disproportionately victimized by crime.
Goal / Mission
The goals of Weed and Seed are to control violent crime, drug trafficking, and drug-related crime and provide a safe environment where residents can live, work, and raise their families.
Results / Accomplishments
An evaluation compared the number of crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft) committed in the year prior to program implementation with those that occurred during the 2nd year of Weed and Seed. The results found that across the eight sites, crime patterns varied widely. Of the nine target areas with available data, declined occurred in six. The evaluation also showed that changes in the drug arrest rates appear to follow the same pattern as overall changes in the crime rate. For example, among those six target areas for which arrest data is available, the four with decreases in crime from the year prior to Weed and Seed through the 2nd year of implementation all experienced initial high rates of drug arrests, suggesting an initial period of intense weeding activities followed by declining drug arrest rates. Assuming the level of enforcement as measured by police presence has remained somewhat constant, this trend reflects success in reducing drug activity.
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Weed And Seed Program Is Making Chinatown Safer, Officials Say
The program launched in July and already, more than 70 have been arrested.
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.”
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he is pleased with the progress the Weed and Seed program is making. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021
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.
The city initially allocated at least $250,000 to the program which coincided with the police department’s Chinatown initiative, Vanic said, which brought more officers into the neighborhood. The mayor’s office has since committed three years worth of funds to the Weed and Seed program – another $750,000 – from federal American Rescue Plan funds.
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.”
Crime in Chinatown: Will ‘Weed and Seed’ Get to the Root?
Honolulu government leaders are trying a new application of an old program to improve life in Chinatown. It’s called “Weed and Seed” — and city officials say that 20 years ago it cut some crimes in the area by 75%. Temporarily. Cultural or historical factors may contribute to illegal activities that persist in Chinatown.
“We had tremendous success when we did this the last time when I was U.S. Attorney. Now we’re in the process of doing it again.”
Beginning in 1997, City Prosecutor Steven Alm helped steer a process that weeded out criminal elements and seeded in community building activities. That effort predated Chinatown’s last flowering in the 2000s.
“We’ve been going for about a month. I think it’s already had a noticeable effect on Chinatown. It’s safer, it’s cleaner, I think the merchants just want to be left alone to sell their products,” Alm said.
Listen to Alm’s longer interview with HPR’s Noe Tanigawa from The Aloha Friday Conversation on Aug. 27, 2021.
The usual 10 to 15 people camping on the stone wall above Nuʻuanu Stream are gone. It’s been about three weeks now, to the relief of businesses across the street. Some of those homeless are currently in Aʻala Park or elsewhere in Chinatown. Free meals continue at River of Life Mission.
“A couple of dozen homeless guys with drug problems and mental health problems have been arrested. We’re working with the Department of Health to get them assessed, then into one of our good drug treatment and mental health treatment programs,” he said.
Still, after a community-wide cleanup by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Art Center, and others, graffiti, public defecation, and more were back the next day.
“There are certain crimes that we’re convinced take place in Chinatown just because of the milieu, because of the bars, the restaurants, the alleys and stuff,” Alm told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
“Like prostitution, it’s not going to take place on King Street five blocks toward Koko Head. It’s going to take place in Chinatown. Same with the shoplifting in some of the stores, disorderly conduct, fights, selling weed, that kind of stuff. It’s something about an urban core like that that makes that easier to happen.”
“You cross right into another world, and that’s where those enterprises thrive. Because nobody wants them to thrive three blocks Diamond Head of that. You know? That’s why they take root there,” said Scott Kikkawa, a writer and federal law enforcement officer for Homeland Security.
Kikkawa has covered Hawaiʻi’s ongoing ice epidemic for The Hawai’i Review of Books, and is researching Hawaiʻi’s social and criminal history for a series of crime novels.
“There’s also a cultural aspect to it. In many Asian cultures, gambling is not considered to be immoral. Although it is illegal in many places, it is not considered to be immoral,” Kikkawa said. “Prostitution, the sex trade, the line blurs. A lot of it is not what we call a quid pro quo/sex for money exchange which is how prostitution statutes are written.”
Kikkawa points out that prostitution, rampant before the first Weed and Seed, was allowed in Chinatown during World War II and prior when Hawaiʻi was a Kingdom and Territory.
“It went from being an almost ethnically white phenomenon during the war (WWII), to being an ethnically Asian one after the war, after 1952. Prostitution really went hand in hand with the other two rackets, with gambling, and with narcotics.”
As far as drugs, opium was big in Honolulu’s Chinatown until supplies dried up in WWII. Heroin became more common, cocaine hit in the ’60s and ’70s, then ice.
“Gambling remained one of the constants. A lot of it remains in Chinatown today, and other places, which are the new Chinatown.”
Kikkawa cites the Keʻeaumoku and Kapiʻolani areas.
“And that’s one of the big issues that city council members get repeatedly from residents wherever they are on the island: game rooms and drugs,” Kikkawa said.