This ain’t the first time, this ain’t the last time

Over the past couple of days, I started hearing the news about CARES money, awarded to the City and County of Honolulu, being spent on material and personnel for the Honolulu Police Department.

At the time, I thought “oh, yeah, they bought a bunch of ATV (all-terrain vehicles) that I saw at Old Stadium Park”. The police there were patrolling to keep people out of the park during the second shutdown of Honolulu in August 2020.

I also heard that money was being used for personnel costs, providing overtime coverage to new teams to go out and crackdown on gatherings and illegal activities. And I thought that was about it.

But then a City Council committee investigated the invoices from HPD, and the shopping list came to light.

This article in Hawai‘i News Now spells out exactly what the police department has been getting from this influx of money.

From my perspective though, I am not surprised at all that this is occurring. As I was thinking about the the article, my mind reminded me of the past when I worked at the City Council, and a drive to work a few years later.

Police Boat
If more money comes down for COVID relief for the city, what other items is on the HPD toys list?
PC: “Police Boat” by ahisgett is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The first part was when I worked at the Honolulu City Council. During my four and one-half years there, a lot of resolutions were filed and voted on for acceptance of grant monies (the City Council “accepts” the gifts or the money before it is spent, that’s the rules)

These resolutions would show where the money came from and, generally, what it would be used for. Considering this was a short time after September 11th, the grants that came in were heavily focused on public safety and to “first responders”. Lots of money for vehicles, equipment, training, and the like were put through, accepted almost automatically.

Once in a while, you’d get a real question about the gift, but that was rare.

Then, after a few months, whatever items were bought with the money would show up. From mobile command centers for HPD to ambulances for Emergency Services. It was like the Wells Fargo Wagon showed up and we got the new shiny toys.

And no one questioned it.

This segways into something I saw a few years later. In 2011, the State of Hawai‘i was tasked with hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), on O‘ahu, November of that year.

Already I knew then that there was real money being put into organizing the conference. Senator Brian Schatz made sure that money was available to take care of sprucing up the town – from fixing up the medians on Nimitz Highway to paving the road near Waikīkī just for the conference, to be torn up again soon after for delayed underground work.

While driving to work one morning, though, I saw on the road this very new Ford truck emblazoned with state markings. Thinking nothing of it I didn’t pay attention until it passed me. When I saw who it was assigned to, I quickly picked up my camera and took a photo of it.

“Attorney Generals – Investigative Division”.

Really, they need a 4X4 truck to go to places to investigate? Oh, APEC money you say bought that….well okay, I guess that’s okay.
PC: Stan Fichtman, November 2011

I thought to myself in seeing the truck “why in everything holy does the Attorney General’s office need a full-sized 4×4 truck? What are they going to investigate things in the mountains or off-road trails or something?”

Keep in mind that the State has a bevy of automobiles that is in the General Services division that departments can sign out for, and I am sure that in the lot, there is a truck or two that might be able to do the job.

In asking a question about this on Facebook at around that time, someone responded with this simple retort “APEC money”.

Yup, the largess that pays for trucks pays for a lot of other things too, and while it looks really stupid considering people are suffering from the economic shutdown, getting the toys our government needs to have is, still it seems, important.

That is why I don’t think everyone should be shocked when you see what the City is spending on HPD with all these items. Why? Because that is what they did in the past. And that is what they are going to do in the future, especially if Congress opens the money bag again and dumps out even more COVID-related money.  

Perhaps it might be best to figure out, instead, what is realistically needed, and make sure that the largess of the rest goes to the most in need. Because God knows, we have more people in need than anything else during this COVID saga.