How hard can it really be to enforce laws in parks?

Blaisdell tents

The Honolulu City Council is kicking around a proposal to create a new city agency with armed rangers to enforce laws in city parks.

That may sound nice and reasonable, but we already have armed police officers who can do the same thing.  The problem is that they too often don’t bother.

Cops have a tough job, with lots of competing priorities.  That’s real clear.  But it’s also clear that many of our parks are a real mess, and that they’re not receiving the attention they need.

It seems like authorities are stuck playing a never-ending game of “Whac-a-Mole,” in which they rotate around the island conducting sweeps of out-of-control messes.  First they issue warnings, then they return and maintenance crews dismantle illegal tents and haul off piles of junk left behind.  And then the squatters and druggies and other homeless park denizens come right back and start the cycle all over again, knowing that it will be a long time before another sweep.

What’s missing is routine, consistent enforcement.  If it was illegal to erect a tent in a park yesterday, it’s illegal today too.  And everyone knows it.

Creating a whole new bureaucracy to enforce laws in public parks seems like a very wasteful exercise in redundancy.  Police can already enforce the laws.  CAN, but too often DON’T.

If they need more resources, or more encouragement or direction, that should be provided.

The newspaper had an editorial today basically making the very point that the park ranger proposal would be expensive and redundant.  The editorial also correctly pointed out that there are plenty of problems associated with homelessness that armed park rangers would not be able to solve.

Unfortunately, the paper also repeated the canard that “The last point-in-time count showed the homeless population dropping on all islands except Oahu, where it rose by 0.4 percent.”

The problem, of course, is that aside from being a very rough estimate, the people reflected by that percentage include the total number of homeless people counted on Oahu, which includes those living in shelters and other forms of temporary housing.

The more pertinent numbers reflect those who remain unsheltered — camping in parks, sprawled across sidewalks, shitting in doorways, etc.

The number of unsheltered homeless people on Oahu increased from 2,173 to 2,324, according to Table 3 on page 15 of the brief report that accompanied the release of the numbers.

We’ve harped on this stuff before.  And before that.

The problems are a lot worse that some are making them out to be.

The editorial did correctly state that homeless people “have the same right to be in public areas as anyone else.”  Absolutely right.

But squatters, druggies, and other homeless people also have no greater right to public areas than anyone else.

They have no right to occupy public parks with illegal tents, stolen shopping carts, and piles of bike parts that are either stolen or illegally retrieved from curbsides where they were placed for rubbish collection.  They have no right to remain in parks after they are closed to the public at night.  They have no right to shit anywhere they please.  They have no right to engage in illegal drug and prostitution activities, surround themselves with dangerous and unleashed dogs, or to wreck or monopolize public restrooms.

The enforcement of laws in our parks and public spaces is not by itself a solution to homelessness, by any stretch of the imagination.  But enforcement must be part of the solution by discouraging, rather than facilitating, the kind of bad lifestyle choices and squalor that’s been allowed to fester in our parks for so long, to the detriment of so many other park users — who are much more likely to be paying the bills for those parks.

We need to invest in comprehensive solutions for homeless people who need and will accept help.  That certainly includes investing in low-cost housing.

But we also need to stop playing games and coddling the surly druggies and losers who wreck our public spaces and don’t give a shit about anyone else.

And it’s high time to stop making excuses and kicking that can down the road.

Ala Moana 8


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