Drugs remain a thorn in Kaua‘i’s side

With election seemingly behind him, Kaua‘i Mayor Bryan Baptiste is returning his focus to what many consider Kaua‘i’s No. 1 problem: drugs.

When Baptiste took office four years ago, he said the most frequent concern voiced by the community was drugs. Four years later, not much has changed in that regard.

The mayor’s schedule this past week — as well as those of various county officials — shows just how much drugs remain a front-of-mind issue for many residents, county public information officer Mary Daubert said.

On Monday, Baptiste and other county officials met with Westside residents concerned about a residential drug treatment facility and the potential negative elements they fear it could bring to the Hanapepe community.

The next night, members of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association had their turn, asking the mayor and other government officials about drugs in their community.

Wednesday, Kekaha residents involved in the community’s Waele a Ola Hou and the county’s anti-drug office hosted a meeting at the Kekaha Neighborhood Center to bolster efforts against drug use in their neighborhood. Drug education trainer Gary Shimabukuro did a presentation on how to identify drugs and their effects. Representatives of Kilauea’s Waele a Ola Hou even made the trek to learn more about community policing.

This week, Baptiste stops by Kaua‘i Drug Court’s sixth graduation ceremony, marking the completion of the diversion program for six non-violent offenders.

“The drug court offers participants a second chance and the results of the program have been great,” said the mayor.

While this week could be more smiles than frowns, last week certainly was not. Especially in Hanapepe, where residents have resented the way they say the county did not keep them up to date on the progress of the facility.

“It was a little disheartening to hear such harsh words from those who spoke out against the project, which has been in the works for the last three years,” Baptiste said in a county release.

Regardless of the emotion, Baptiste said the meeting was constructive.

“It was a great opportunity for us to share details of the program with the community,” he said.

The county says everyone at the Monday meeting agreed that there is a need for an adolescent treatment facility on the island, but a consensus could not be reached on the location.

“Our children should have a place to go to for help on their home island,” Baptiste said. “They’re not criminals. They just made wrong choices.”

Frustrations were evident at the Kilauea meeting as well. Many residents expressed frustration over the length of time it takes for cases to move through the system. Baptiste acknowledged their frustrations, and said he, too, found it hard to understand why things take so long.

Once again, though, Baptiste painted the meeting in a positive light.

“For the most part I think it was an educational experience for everyone,” he said. “They found out about individual civil rights, how the judicial system works, parameters that the Kaua‘i Police Department has to work within. At the end of the meeting, everyone vowed to collaborate in our battle against drugs.”

Another topic that was discussed at the Kilauea meeting was the “knock and talk” program, which involves police officers going to a suspected drug dealer’s home without a search warrant, informing the occupants that the police are investigating reports of drug activity, and asking to be admitted inside the home. If sufficient information is gathered during the visit, the police might be able to obtain a search warrant for the home.

Another topic discussed at the Kilauea meeting was the “knock and talk” program, where police officers go to a suspected drug dealer’s home without a search warrant, inform the occupants that the police are investigating reports of drug activity and ask to be admitted inside, the county said. If sufficient information is gathered during the visit, the police might be able to obtain a search warrant for the home.

Under the Hawai‘i State Constitution as currently interpreted by the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, however, the evidence gained by such a search warrant would probably not be admissible in a criminal trial.

“Although the ‘knock and talk’ program is not currently allowable in Hawai‘i, we support the program and believe that it would provide KPD with another enforcement tool and help us in our war against drugs,” Baptiste said.

In a release from his office this week, the mayor took the opportunity to touch on the highlights of his term when it comes to battling illegal drug use, namely the Kaua‘i Community Drug Response Plan 2004-2009 and the millions of federal and state appropriations that have come Kaua‘i’s way.

But the events of the past week indicate a continued frustration within the community.

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