KAILUA-KONA — What is the No. 1 challenge police have in Hawaii from a judicial perspective?
Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth posed the question to a room full of law enforcement and police commissioners Monday morning during the State of Hawaii Police Commissioners’ Conference at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel.
Some answers Roth got from the audience were: homelessness, increase in criminal activities, mental health, recruitment and retention, keeping criminals in jail and public perception.
Roth was among five speakers who addressed issues facing communities in the state. Those issues varied from opioid use, to homelessness, as well as discussion on prosecution and West Hawaii’s Special Enforcement Unit.
Roth specifically addressed the challenges and the current trends law enforcement faces from a prosecutorial standpoint.
The first point Roth addressed was perception.
“Perception issues aren’t so much a problem in Hawaii, but perception is reality,” he said.
The prosecuting attorney said 99.9 percent of Hawaii’s law enforcement is doing what they’re supposed to do.
“We do have officers who do bad things, but the great thing about this state is we have officers who have ‘aloha,’” Roth said.
Another big challenge law enforcement and prosecutors face is the “CSI effect.”
“Crimes are not solved in one hour and the next hour they’re not prosecuted,” Roth said.
Hawaii Police Department Maj. Robert Wagner said not all evidence collected is tested and sent to a lab. There are different crime labs to which Hawaii County police can send evidence for testing.
The first is a forensic analysis lab in Honolulu, which is free of charge. However, Wagner said it can take months before results are provided.
Wagner said there are also options to send evidence, such as sex assault kits to labs on the mainland. The cost is at least $8,000 for one kit.
“The more time goes by works to the disadvantage of the prosecutors and the advantage of the defense,” Roth said.
Another big issue that plagues law enforcement and the judicial system is jail overcrowding.
Hawaii Community Correctional Center is currently over capacity.
“We need to build more jails, but that’s not the answer,” Roth said. “We need to figure out who needs to be in and who needs to be out.”
The lead prosecuting attorney also touched on homelessness and mental illness.
“We can’t think of homelessness as a crime,” Roth said.
Unfortunately, he added, a lot of these issues get put off on law enforcement when it should be put on someone else.
The conference continues today with speakers addressing mental health challenges facing police, recruitment challenges, supporting officers in critical incidents and department accreditation.