Communities in Hawaii — and the nation at large — face the public health crisis of a lifetime. The rapid spread of COVID-19 tests our ability to collectively defeat an invisible enemy, while safeguarding rights we hold near and dear to our hearts and the economic vitality that fuels the engine of our prosperity.
Unfortunately, as leaders work to protect our communities, some folks choose to endanger them by ignoring the law and exploiting the vulnerable. Experience is teaching what many of us suspect: Criminals don’t go on vacation while the nation fights a devastating pandemic.
As a result, the proud public servants in my office — and the federal law enforcement community as a whole — will continue to protect the public and uphold the rule of law. Daily, we’ll perform our crimefighting mission, while carefully doing our part to mitigate the risk that COVID-19 will take more precious lives.
Among other measures my office is taking to adjust during this trying period, is prioritizing certain threats to public safety.
First, we will pursue violent offenders. As folks in our communities courageously leave their homes to buy food or obtain medical treatment, the last thing they need to worry about is whether they’ll be the victim of violent crime. They also shouldn’t have to worry about being a victim of violent crime in the home, as stay-at-home orders create a window of opportunity for those who seek to do them harm. My message to violent offenders is that we will find a home for you in federal prison.
Second, my office will prioritize drug prosecutions. We cannot abandon those in our communities who struggle with drug addiction by giving a pass to methamphetamine dealers during a time of crisis. Our investigations show that drug traffickers continue to pour poison into our communities and, in doing so, further exacerbate a decades-old public health crisis while our leaders work to tackle an evolving one. As a result, now, more than ever, the law enforcement community must take drug traffickers off the streets by bringing serious felony charges against them and seeking lengthy — and mandatory — prison terms.
Third, we will prioritize prosecutions that target child sex predators. Expanded use of teleworking arrangements and online learning platforms allow businesses, governmental entities, and schools to continue to operate. However, our increased reliance on web-based platforms may afford sex predators more opportunities to prey upon our children. It’s therefore important to bring charges against online child sex predators to protect our children by deterring would-be sex predators from seizing upon opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fourth, we will aggressively pursue COVID-19-related frauds and scams. Fraudsters and scammers who adopt “never let a good crisis go to waste” as a guiding principle should know that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will do the same, using its resources to bring to justice those who line their pockets defrauding the vulnerable. Recently, my office partnered with the FBI, HSI, Secret Service and other federal and state entities to form a COVID-19 Working Group. The group is working collaboratively to root out fraudulent schemes and other unlawful activities related to COVID-19, bringing to bear both federal and state resources to protect our communities.
The duty to protect and serve is one that law enforcement embraces — especially when times are tough.
Every day, state and federal law enforcement officers respond to the call of duty regardless of the risks they face. The DOJ is proud to stand by them as we all fight for the future of our state and the nation.
Kenji Price is U.S. attorney for the District of Hawaii