Chinatown's added police are 'double-edged sword'


POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

Phuong N. Tran sees the police officers standing in groups of three on the corner outside his store as intimidating for his customers.





        The number of citations Honolulu police have issued in Chinatown have gone up since April 4:




 Feb. 2 - April 2April 4 - May 4
Moving citations3081,439
Parking citations454905
Seat belts citations08
Pedestrian citations1315
Criminal citations013
Liquor citations1839




        Source: Honolulu Police Department



The extra police officers have been patrolling Chinatown since early April in response to community concerns about a recent gang-related murder and stabbing on River Street.

But Tran, the owner of Art Treasures Gallery in Chinatown, said the visibility of police officers is causing concern among his customers about the neighborhood's safety.

The extra officers are also issuing more citations in Chinatown, many for minor offenses such as parking and moving violations. Some residents and businesses say the police are writing too many citations and not focusing on the main concerns—drug use and homelessness.

“;They're everywhere,”; said Scottie Flamm, co-owner of Bethel Street Gallery. “;It's kind of scared away people because everybody's getting tickets on their cars for all kinds of random stuff.”;

Since the increase in police officers, traffic citations have gone up more than four-fold, from 308 in March to 1,439 in April. Parking tickets doubled in the same two periods from 454 to 905.

“;It smacks of no aloha,”; said Roy Venters, of Studio of Roy Venters on Nuuanu Avenue, who said he has seen police on the sidewalk wave down several vehicles at a time to issue tickets and officers inspecting the space between the curb and cars to write up parking tickets.

“;They're here for the money,”; he said. “;They're not here for the crime. It's just too much. It looks like a police lockdown camp.”;

Other residents and business owners support the increased police presence. Diego Gallardo, of Maria Bonita Restaurant, said it's reduced the number of people loitering outside his Mexican restaurant on Hotel Street near Nuuanu.

“;I see changes,”; he said. “;I hope it's not temporary.”;

Honolulu police Maj. Clayton Saito of the Chinatown district said the situation is assessed weekly to determine if it needs to continue or be scaled back.

“;Chinatown has always been safe. Because of the two isolated incidents that occurred we needed to give that reassurance to the community. Part of it was the increase in uniform presence,”; he said. He added that the increased police presence has helped shut some gambling houses.

While canvassing the neighborhood, Saito found most are happy with the increased officers, although others complain.

“;It's always a double-edged sword,”; he said. “;Because the officers are out there, they're going to see the violations that maybe before were unseen. ... At some point we're going to find a balance. We're going to find an equilibrium that most people are satisfied with.”;

Marsha Joyner, coordinator of the Arts District Merchants Association, said there has to be a balance in the police presence, especially in the arts district.

“;Four police on a corner in front of an establishment, people see that and think that must be a drug bust and they won't go in,”; she said. Joyner said she got a recent ticket when her car was slightly outside a marked parking stall.

“;When you have that many police ... they have to do something and they just can't stand there,”; she said.

Some businesses say police officers are most visible during the day when the streets are already safe and less available at night when criminals are in action.

Tran said he hears drug dealers near his shop conversing about safe times to operate, usually after 7 p.m. when there are fewer officers on the street. The regular dealers know the police shifts and work around them, he said, adding that after certain hours it's like free time for them.

Police staffing is dictated by the officers' schedules, changing every day of the week, but generally is about 30 a day compared to 10 before, said Saito.

Flamm said the extra officers are not taking care of her main concerns of homeless people sleeping in her doorway or drug users passed out on the street.

“;I can have someone passed out on my doorstep with a pocketful of drugs and they can't arrest,”; she said, noting that police may be limited by the law. “;It hasn't made it any safer down here.”;