Weed & Seed expansion sought
|||Graphic: Weeding out crime|
By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
Organizers of the Weed & Seed law-enforcement program, which has helped drastically reduce drug dealing and other criminal activity in Kalihi and Waipahu, will hold a public meeting this week to discuss extending the program into the Ala Moana area.
Hawai'i Weed & Seed executive director Maile Kanemaru said the effort would be an extension of the Kalihi-Palama/Chinatown program and would be the second group seeking to expand the program into their neighborhood.
A group of Kalihi residents has already been meeting for about a month in their bid for the Weed & Seed expansion.
In what amounts to a "friendly competition" between the communities, Ala Moana residents will get organized at a meeting Thursday and learn what it takes to submit an application for official designation from the U.S. Justice Department.
The Chinatown program's eastern border is Nu'uanu Avenue downtown and Kapalama Stream on the west. Ala Moana residents want it expanded to Kalakaua Avenue, and Kalihi residents would like to see it enforced as far as Middle Street and into Kalihi Valley.
Rep. Ken Hiraki D-25th (Downtown, Ala Moana), said much of the crime in the Ala Moana area is associated with the large number of bars, strip clubs and gaming rooms along Ke'eaumoku and Sheridan streets.
"We are comparing ourselves with Kalihi, which you think of as having a lot of problems, but when you look at the statistics our area has more crime," Hiraki said.
According to police, the number of major offenses in the Ala Moana area is greater in every category than in the proposed Weed & Seed expansion area of Kalihi. The Ala Moana area reported 2,484 thefts and 780 violent crimes in the first six months of the year, compared with 1,125 and 548, respectively, for Kalihi Valley. (See chart.)
But crime does not solely dictate which areas receive Weed & Seed designation. Community involvement and organization also weigh heavily in the decision.Officials said it is possible that both areas could receive Weed & Seed designation.
A map created by the Ala Moana Neighborhood Board shows that its crime is concentrated around the bars and clubs.
"Because of these establishments, people come into this area and then we have problems," Hiraki said. "We are hoping that similar results in crime reduction that happened in the Chinatown area can happen down here."
Weed & Seed got its Hawai'i start in 1998 in Kalihi-Palama/Chinatown, which has seen a 70 percent drop in crime in the past four years. The Waipahu site began in late 2000, and drug crimes there have fallen by 78 percent.
The 'Ewa Weed & Seed site is the third on O'ahu and just got started last week. Nationally there are more than 351 sites in 46 states. The program is a coordinated effort among city, state and federal law enforcement agencies and residents to target violent crime, drug abuse and gang activity.
Weed & Seed relies on community efforts and tough legal penalties to "weed out" crime, then applies crime prevention, intervention, treatment and neighborhood revitalization to "seed" a safer community.
District 1 Honolulu Police Maj. Michael Tucker, commander of the Ala Moana area, said along with strong federal penalties in a Weed & Seed area, people convicted of crimes there are restricted from returning to the area. Removing those people from the area leads to a dramatic reduction in crime, Tucker said.
"If you remove people from the element that contributes to their behavior, they have more of an opportunity for positive influences like counseling," Tucker said.
Maryrose McClelland, chairwoman of the Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board, said a Weed & Seed extension into Kalihi Valley would help fight drug dealing, prostitution and gambling in the area.
Kalihi residents have formed three committees focusing on drug prevention and treatment, community policing and community restoration and they plan to submit an application for Weed & Seed designation by the end of the month, McClelland said.
Kanemaru said Weed & Seed is more than police officers fighting crime; it takes a strong commitment from area residents. Community participation is the only way the program will succeed.
Getting that commitment "is a lot of hard work," Kanemaru said. "Success breeds success, but it you don't understand what it took to get there, it is pretty tough."
Rep. Dennis Arakaki D-28th (Kalihi Valley, Kamehameha Heights) is working with the Kalihi group and said the residents' organization and community involvement gives them an edge.
"The seed part is really critical and this is where if you have a community and people working together you have a better chance of sustaining that effort," Arakaki said. "That is what we are hoping for."
Kanemaru said there is no reason why both areas cannot be designated as part of the program if they can show the commitment. Communities on the Big Island, Kaua'i, Lana'i and Moloka'i have also held meetings to begin an effort to join the program.
The final decision rests with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. Kanemaru said.
Reach James Gonser at email@example.com or 535-2431.