The Honolulu Police Department is asking for funding of 10 reactivated officer positions for a community outreach unit aimed at coordinating its outreach and enforcement efforts with social service providers to better assist the homeless.
The Health Efficiency Long-term Partnership (H.E.L.P.) program has been around since summer 2017.
Funding for two sergeants and eight metropolitan officers would help HPD “stand up” a stand-alone H.E.L.P. detail, HPD Finance Maj. Roland Turner told City Council Budget Committee members Thursday.
Police Chief Susan Ballard said HPD is working with Lt. Gov. Josh Green to obtain state funding to establish temporary “Lift Zones” or “Mobile Navigation Centers” that would provide short-term refuge and services at city parks for the homeless to stay after leaving shelters and before they enter permanent housing.
The Lift Zones would be run by HPD and staffed by medical professionals in sections of specific parks for no more than 90 days.
“We’re looking at park areas in each of the districts that are not in the middle of a residential area,” Ballard said, pointing out that the first planned site is at Sand Island.
Councilman Ron Menor said while he likes the Lift Zones idea, HPD can expect some pushback from communities. “As Council members, when it comes to parks and the individuals who set up encampments, the requests we get from our constituents is, ‘What can you do to clear out the parks and keep them open for public use?’”
Ballard said HPD will be reaching out to the neighborhoods and stressing that the Lift Zones are designed to be temporary, controlled tent areas. “We can’t just say, ‘Not in our backyard,’” the chief said. “It’s going to be in everybody’s backyard. So everyone’s going to share the pain regardless of which part of the island you’re on. We’ve all got to be part of the solution. … We gotta do something because it’s out of control now.”
Ballard said HPD is also looking at establishing more joint operation centers, which provide small-scale health care and treatment for those in need.
The program has proved successful in Chinatown, and the department is looking for a location in Kakaako, Ballard said. “We’re looking to have four or five more of those, hopefully. We’d love it before the end of the year.”
Just over a year after becoming chief, Ballard is making some inroads on her goal to have 100 percent of HPD’s patrol officer positions staffed around the clock, but it will take a few years to get there.
Turner said Ballard has set a minimum standard of 80 percent of patrol jobs staffed for now. “Of course, with that comes a certain amount of overtime.”
As of Feb. 1, HPD had 253 unformed position vacancies, but it hopes to fill 30 of those by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
To help keep up with attrition and expand its ranks, the department is switching to four recruit classes a year from three. Each class will have up to 54 recruits, Turner said.
The HPD budget actually calls for 37 new officer positions, but they are unfunded because they aren’t expected to hit the pavement this year, Ballard said. Because it takes time for new positions to be created, HPD wanted the positions inserted into this year’s post so they’ll be available to use once the department meets its staffing shortages, she said.