Prosecutors seek additional funds for Career Criminal Unit

  • Hawaii Police Department officers make an arrest in this file photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Hawaii Police Department officers make an arrest in this file photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Hawaii Police Department officers make an arrest in this file photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Thousands of cases come across the desks of county prosecutors every year. However, it’s the small minority of repeat offenders that cause the most trouble in the community.

It’s that minority group that the prosecutor’s office dedicates funds to handle those particular cases. The Career Criminal Unit within the Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and in every county throughout the state was established by the state Legislature 40 years ago.

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But as the years have rolled on, funding for these units have slowly depleted.

Hawaii County prosecutors are now seeking an additional $365,000 from the Legislature for the office’s unit for fiscal years, 2019-20 and 2020-21.

“It’s an important part of our office,” Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said. “We’re able to go after the worst of the worst.”

Today, Roth will plead his case on behalf of his office during a public hearing before the committees of Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, Judiciary and Ways and Means on Oahu.

The prosecutor’s office is already receiving $324,512 for the 2019-20 fiscal year from the state. Due to a 5 percent contingency restriction, the office will only be allowed to spend $308,286.

Dale Ross, First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, said throughout the years as the funding was going downward, it became apparent at some point that the funding was inadequate to finance the unit. The funds pay for three attorneys, three clerks, two investigators and a legal assistant.

“In order to maintain this program we’ve had to apply for state funding through bills,” Ross said. “In some years past the county has stepped up to fill in the gap.”

Initially, Hawaii County received about $733,000 to fund the unit. The cost was slowly cut in half. By 2016, the Legislature provided approximately $324,000 to the unit.

Ross said the prosecutor’s office receives an excess of 16,000 cases a year for screening of charges.

“We have to be able to prioritize,” she said. “We have this uniform definition of a career criminal that’s understood by police, judiciary. They have priority over other cases in terms of our resources.”

Roth said he’s requested additional money for the unit from the Legislature two or three times in the past.

“This is something that isn’t unusual for us to be asking — I know we have to fight when we go to get it though,” he said. “We’re just putting in the same bill to keep the program afloat.”

One case that the Career Criminal Unit handled was that of Derek Conway. Conway was flagged by the unit as he was in and out of the court system for several years for various charges including weapon and drug offenses.

After several probations and stints in jail, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug-related charges in 2017.

Ross said Conway had been given multiple opportunities to reform.

“It’s a really important program,” Ross added. “It puts attention on defendants who are causing the most havoc in our community.”

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If approved, the act will take effect on July 1.

“The idea is if you can take them off the street, the crime goes down. By focusing on these persistent offenders were able to keep our community safe,” Roth said. “That doesn’t always mean the judge will give them a prison sentence, but we try.”

  1. diverdave February 8, 2019 3:39 am

    Always more money for this or that. Guys, we only have a finite tax income. We have 1.2 million people in Hawaii. We are NOT California with 40 million. STOP spending money!


    1. Kaipo Wall February 8, 2019 9:40 am

      In the meantime , how much is that new , stand alone, Prosecutors office at the West Hawaii Civic Center costing? They couldn’t have worked it into the almost complete new Kona courthouse complex just down the road?


      1. Sara Steiner-jackson February 9, 2019 7:05 am

        You all are paying for that Courthouse by traffic enforcement speeding, cellphone, seatbelt violations – stuff that has a hefty fine


  2. Big ideas February 8, 2019 6:41 am

    We need a 3 strikes law to deal with these career criminal nut jobs who prey on the rest of us.

    While we’re at it we need a loitering law tso the Police can deal with homeless congregating along Alii otherwise we are going to kill our turism tax base.


  3. Sara Steiner-jackson February 8, 2019 7:57 am

    Yep, because federal funds are only used for 1) marijuana eradication (whether it is medical cannabis or not) and 2) traffic stings to generate money to pay for big courthouses in Hilo and Kona.

    Since the war on drugs back in the 70’s, the federal government has made policing in Hawaii a for-profit industry and that is why we are in such bad shape, police-wise.

    For the last 50 years the Police and Prosecutors get to keep virtually anything valued under $100K for administrative forfeitures, without a finding of guilt, or without any oversighte of theft, besides being patently unconstitutional it has corrupted both the police and the prosecutors office to ignore real crime because IT JUST DOES NOT PAY.


  4. Scooby February 8, 2019 11:17 am

    Poor leadership. A good leader will prioritize and allocate resources accordingly. It does not take money to get the job done. You have resources that wouldn’t cost a penny if you get creative Mitch. Prosecutors retire every year and I know some would volunteer their time to assist with reviewing cases and in return free up your staff to focus on prosecuting those career criminals.


  5. Sara Steiner-jackson February 9, 2019 7:03 am

    Because you can’t focus on crime unless it pays? WTF? Our police department has ignored violent and property crimes for decades because they only work on stuff the feds give them money for – pakalolo and traffic enforcement. Hows that for extortion?


  6. Buds4All February 9, 2019 5:49 pm

    The liberal judges wont lock them up for a long time! Bastards


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