LIHUE — In just five months, the Kauai Police Department saw a 150 percent increase of crystal methamphetamine in 2016 compared to the entire year of 2015.
That’s 6,008 grams of crystal methamphetamine in 2016 versus 2,384 grams between January and May, according to KPD statistics.
It’s one reason why Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said his office wants to enhance the efforts of the Attorney General’s Drug Nuisance Abatement Unit by creating a special unit within his department focused on illegal drug activity and drug houses, which has left the community frustrated.
On Wednesday, the County Council granted his request to receive and expend federal funds to apply for the Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance, where if approved, he could hire two contract employees to handle drug nuisance abatement cases.
“We get a lot of feedback on drug houses and illegal drug activity happening in our community,” Kollar said. “We get concerned people calling our office on a daily basis and as to what they perceive as inaction on those houses. It’s not that KPD isn’t doing anything, because we know they are. But an investigation needs to occur before action can place.”
And that’s where Kollar’s unit will take over, he said.
The DNAU — which will be paid for by a $131,000 federal grant — will be comprised of one full-time special investigator and one full-time legal clerk who will assist the investigator. The special investigator will work with KPD’s vice unit on complaints, follow up interviews and will conduct investigations alongside the deputy prosecutor assigned to the cases, Kollar said.
The federal grant money will cover salaries for both positions as well as two new Dell computers, two desks, two licenses for legal software and office supplies. The salary for the special investigator will be $55,236 annually and the salary for the legal clerk will be $31, 236.
The unit will help educate the public by providing information about how it can better inform KPD and the unit about illegal drug activity and drug houses, Kollar said.
“I am really excited to have the opportunity to address what’s pressing in our community,” he said. “Whether it’s on the north side, south side or Westside, people want to see what’s being done about drug houses.”
Feedback from the community led to the end of one such drug house in Hanamaulu, where KPD took down 24-year-old Andrew Martinez of Hanamaulu and 28-year-old Steven Orozco of Stockton, California, and recovered roughly $2,000 in cash, a stolen handgun, miscellaneous illicit drugs, and over seven pounds of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value $1.6 million.
It was the largest amount of crystal methamphetamine that the department has ever seized in a single incident, according to KPD Chief Darryl Perry at the time of the arrest.
Perry said he welcomes the new unit.
“KPD is supportive of the program because we will have another tool in our arsenal to address the drug problem in our communities which authorizes our officers to remove drug trafficking criminal enterprises from neighborhoods,” Perry said.
The unit, which is “six to 10 months down the road,” would work closely work with KPD and go out in the community and talk to members to get information about neighborhoods dealing with drug houses and illegal drug activities, Kollar said.
Councilman Mason Chock said he voted in favor of Kollar’s request for the special unit because he believes in the importance of addressing the serious drug issue on Kauai, but he sees one problem.
“The challenge is sustaining the cost of the unit, which will be dismantled once grant funding runs out,” Chock said. “Our government needs more resources like this to make a difference on the illegal drug activity in our community and I am supportive of our judicial system being proactive on it.”
The grant funding, which will have to be applied for every year, will cover costs for the DNAU pilot project, which could last up to four years.
Addressing a concern raised by Council Chair Mel Rapozo at this week’s council meeting about adding additional employees to the payroll, Kollar said the special investigator and the legal clerk would be contractual employees and not paid for by taxpayers.
Kollar said his office would attempt to avoid layoffs by finding a way to integrate the unit into existing operations.
“It’s at no cost for the county,” he said. “We’ve been adamant about that. The positions come with a grant. We would try to have openings available at the time the pilot ends.”