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Assaults in Kakaako soaring

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    An area in Kakaako along Olomehani Street has attracted homeless people for years, but the encampment mushroomed over the last few months as the city’s “sit-lie” ban forced homeless people out of areas such as Waikiki.
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The number of assaults are skyrocketing near a homeless encampment that continues to grow around the University of Hawaii medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, according to preliminary law enforcement data.

In the first six months of this year, Honolulu police responded to 29 “simple assault” reports compared to just 13 in the first half of 2014.

At the same time, the category of “aggravated assault” jumped to seven in the first six months of this year from only one report in the first half of 2014.

State sheriff’s deputies, who have joint jurisdiction for the area, which includes Kakaako Waterfront Park, saw the number of its “assault” responses increase to 11 in June from six in May.

For just the first 11 days of July, there were five assault complaints. If it holds, the pace of the July responses handled by sheriff’s deputies would surpass the May and June numbers.

The actual number of assault reports handled by sheriff’s deputies could even be higher because the data from May to July 11 include only calls that were referred by Honolulu police, said Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Sheriff Division.

The DPS data do not include calls made directly to the sheriffs, Schwartz said.

State laws include penalties for first-degree assault, defined as “intentionally or knowingly (causing) serious bodily injury to another person”; second-degree assault, characterized by “substantial bodily injury”; and third-degree assault, characterized as “bodily injury.”

The Honolulu Police Department’s crime data include reports from “Beat 168” — an area makai of Pohukaina Street between Punchbowl Street and Ward Avenue that includes the Kakaako encampment. The Sheriff Division data come from “the Kakaako area,” Schwartz wrote in an email.

The Sheriff Division has a booking station across from the medical school and has an agreement with one of the area’s landowners, the Hawaii Community Development Authority, to patrol the area along with HPD.

State Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kaka­ako) was assaulted June 29 while photographing the encampment and contends the preliminary data do not reflect the true number of crimes for the area.

“Not as much gets reported,” Brower said. “A lot of people have come to me and either they or someone they know has experienced being chased in Kakaako while walking or riding a bike. A woman called me today who lives in Waikiki and while they were in Kakaako their bicycles were stolen. They went looking for them and got stared down and yelled at, so they left the Kakaako shoreline. I get a lot of stories like that.”

Brower has decided whether to pursue criminal charges against two teenagers who assaulted him but will not announce his decision until next week. His case initially was investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office but has since been taken over by HPD.

Tuesday night, a 34-year-old homeless man was arrested on suspicion of first-degree abuse for allegedly choking his 34-year-old girlfriend during an argument at the encampment on Ohe Street, just behind the Children’s Discovery Center.

On July 17, a homeless man who lives in the encampment reported being beaten with a metal pipe and cut by a mob of homeless residents who also took his bicycle. And on July 12, a 16-year-old girl who lives in the encampment allegedly repeatedly punched a 41-year-old woman practicing Korean drumming at Kakaako Waterfront Park.

The sheriff’s data show only 10 noise complaints from May to July 11. But Schwartz said deputies are “getting inundated with noise complaints” from homeless people complaining about noise from other homeless people.

“They’re calling on each other,” Schwartz said. “That area has a lot more people so (deputies) are responding a lot more than they used to.”

The area has attracted homeless people for years. But the encampment mushroomed over the last few months as the city’s “sit-lie” ban forced homeless people out of areas such as Waikiki.

The encampment is on land owned by the state, city, HCDA and private entities, making a coordinated plan to deal with the encampment complicated.

Despite a media report that the area will be cleared out in two to four weeks, the governor’s office, mayor’s office and private landowners insist they are still searching for a long-term solution that would include a place for the estimated 200 homeless people to go to.

They insist there are no immediate plans to move out the homeless from Kakaako.

In an email sent to Honolulu media, Gov. David Ige’s spokeswoman, Jodi Leong, wrote: “Gov. Ige and his administration are currently exploring all options and ideas as he and various stakeholders work toward a plan to address the homeless situation in Kakaako. It would be premature to comment on ongoing discussions before a concrete plan is in place.”

Before it grew to its current size, most of the tents and tarpaulins in the area had been yards apart.

Today, they’re packed together and reinforced with plywood and wooden pallets.

Some of the homeless people use gas-powered generators to charge cellphones and to power flat-screen televisions inside their encampments.

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