The Beginning

The Hawai'i Pacific University, College of Professional Studies, Department of Public Service is committed to providing students with practical, hands-on, skill-building opportunities in the criminal justice field.  The three full-time Criminal Justice (CJ) faculty are or were all professionals in the CJ field.  In short, Randall Lee is a former Circuit Court Judge and prosecutor and engages in the private practice of law; Jennifer Merkle is a former federal law enforcement officer, civil attorney, and prosecutor who worked in prisons around the United States for nearly 25 years; and Sheryl Sunia is a retired Honolulu Police Department homicide detective.  Together, they have practical experiences which span the three primary components of the criminal justice system: Law Enforcement, the Courts, and Corrections. Strong ties with the local community are essential to meeting the CJ department's objectives for its students. We are continually looking for and trying to create opportunities for practical experiences.

Sheryl Sunia, Program Chair, approached Jennifer Merkle, Assistant Professor, with her idea for hosting a Honolulu Police Department, Citizens Police Academy at HPU's downtown campus and building a special topics class around it.  Research indicates that participation in Community Police Academy programs results in increased positive perceptions of law enforcement.  Further, studies show community efficacy decreases crime in communities. The idea was to bring HPU students, interested community members, and HPD together for this experience.  Unfortunately, though the area HPD management was excited about the program, the office responsible for offering the course indicated their curriculum was not ready at this time and declined to participate.

Both Professors Sunia and Merkle observed the growing concerns of HPUs community, the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood, coupled with broken trust with the police department and sought to find a way to maximize student drive to be part of social change, particularly in the criminal justice field. Not to be deterred, the Professors sought to create their version of the Citizens Police Academy. As we reached out to the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood Board and other community members, we realized the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood members, including our students, are struggling with issues of crime and the response to it.  What we quickly realized is that we have an opportunity to demonstrate our community with the neighborhood by helping them give voice to their concerns and then offering a platform through which we could explore those concerns; research tools, practices, and programs; receive guidance to help us address those concerns; and develop resources for fellow community members. What follows reflects the endeavor which morphed from a simple idea into what we hope will become part of the fabric of HPU's relationship with the community.

The Plan

Big Audacious Goal

Our big audacious goal is to maximize the use of our Special Topics course, which is a catch-all course already embedded in our curriculum and which allows us to create a course around matters of high interest.  Instead of leaving it to chance and the possibility of spare time of our full-time or adjunct faculty, we want to make a special topics course available every spring semester in both 15 and 8-week modalities, involving undergraduate and graduate level students as well as the community, and integrate that “special topic” through our curriculum to the greatest extent possible.

We are relying on community members to model community participation and offering students the opportunity to be part of their community while gaining experience navigating the laws and their limitations. We will be experiencing the collaboration and interaction required when you are an active member of your community, working together to create a safe place to live, work, and go to school.

Crime and Criminal Justice in Our Community: A Series of Special Topics

There is no better place to begin than right in our backyard, thus the forthcoming Special Topics Course: Crime and Community in Action was created.  We are offering this course in the Spring of 2023.  The 16-week undergraduate course will run from the week of January 9, through the week of April 30, 2022. The 8-week graduate-level course is offered in term 8B, which runs from the week of March 13, 2022, to the week of April 30, 2022.

Giving Voice to the Community – CJ 7001/7002

The Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood is a diverse urban community with diverse interests and concerns. The community is the entry point for cruise ships and draws tourists to such areas as Chinatown Historic District, Iolani Palace, and more.  At the same time, it hosts colleges, the Hawaii and Kumu Kahua Theaters, preschools, and grade schools.  Further, it serves as the home to a diverse population. To better understand the criminal justice-related concerns of those that live, work, and/or attend school in the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood. We have asked our graduate students enrolled in the Professional Paper I and Professional Paper II courses this fall and spring to do their master's research on a criminal justice-related issue specific to the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood. While they will each be conducting their research and writing their own papers, we will be creating and distributing one survey through which we will seek to better understand criminal justice issues related to the community's perception of crime in the community, their safety, and that of their families or employees, the ability and effectiveness of the HPD and local officials to address their concerns, and the extent to which these issues are impacting their actions/behaviors.

CJ Graduate Students will complete their Graduate Thesis on crime-related issues in the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood. The CJ graduate students will distribute a survey to individuals who live, work and/or go to school in the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood. The survey sought to capture targeted individuals' perceptions about the volume of crime in the neighborhood, perceptions about their safety, and rates of victimization. It also seeks to have community members prioritize what type of criminal conduct in the neighborhood is perceived to be the most problematic, what governmental actions the community members are aware of, and what type of response to criminal conduct they think is effective.

In Spring, the Graduate students will analyze this data.  The survey responses will be used to inform the segments that we will cover in the open sessions of the Special Topics Class.  The survey will be distributed again at the end of the 16-week session to individuals who participated to see if there are changes to their reporting. 

The issues identified through the survey and the data collected formed the bases for the topics covered in the Spring special topics courses.

Special Topics Courses Spring 2023: CJ 3600 (16-week)/CJ 6998 (8-week)

HPU's CJ Faculty offered a CJ Special Topics Course: Crime and the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood in the Spring.

Undergraduate Course Learning Outcome:

Create a resource that fellow members of the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood with concerns about crime can access that addresses personal safety, protection of property, and preservation of business opportunities.

Present your resource to the Roundtable and community at large.

Graduate Course Outcomes:

Analyze the feasibility of the criminal justice-related solution strategies proposed by members of the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood through their survey responses.

Formulate implementation strategies/plans of action for executing one or more strategies for enhancing community safety in collaboration with Invited Community Members.

Present your resource to the Roundtable and community at large.

Desired Outcome for Invited Community Members:

Examine the criminal justice-related issues identified by members of the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood in a non-confrontational, supportive, information-gathering, and problem-solving environment.

Formulate a plan for executing one or more related strategies for enhancing community safety.

Present your resource to the Roundtable and community at large.

We seek to bring together community leaders, HPD, residents, businesses, and HPU students to identify and tackle criminal Justice challenges facing our community.

  1. This course is being offered as a 16-week class in a classroom on the lower level of Pioneer Plaza on Thursday evenings and as an 8-week course in 8B in Spring for our Graduate students. We are inviting select community members to join us throughout and we are opening 7-8 in-person sessions to invited community members.
    1. “Invited Community Members” will be limited to 20 persons who live, work, own a business, or attend school in the area.
    2. Standing invitations will be extended to HPD (whom we are asking to partner with us for this project); the City and County of Honolulu Prosecutor's Office; elected State and local representatives who represent portions of the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood (including members of the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood Board No. 13); Weed & Seed Hawaii; Crime Stoppers Honolulu, Inc.; Hawaii Tourism Authority; Crime Prevention & Justice Assistance Division in the Department of the Attorney General; or others as may be appropriate to the issues identified by the community through surveys.
  2. During these open-to-the-community sessions, we will try to bring in people who can help us strategize on ways to be safer as a community. On the weeks that aren't open to the public, the students will be focusing on creating some type of resource (probably like a wiki page) that the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood community members can access that incorporates all the tips and information that we receive.
The Survey

Three graduate students. . . 

The Roundtables

Roundtable Objectives:

1. Review survey data submitted by members of the Chinatown-Downtown Neighborhood community members.
2. Examine the criminal justice-related issues identified through the survey in a nonconfrontational, supportive, information-gathering, and problem-solving environment.
3. Formulate a plan for executing one or more related strategies for enhancing community safety.
4. Present an action plan for strategies to the Roundtable and community at large.

Time Commitment:
The Roundtable members will meet on Thursday evenings, between the hours of 5:30 pm and 8:30 pm at Hawai'i Pacific University, 1 Aloha Tower Drive, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96813. Meetings will be held in room ATM MPR 3. The room location for April 20th is WP1-418 at 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96813 (Waterfront Plaza).

The dates we met included:

1. January 19, 2023 - Government - Responses and Limitations to Responses to Crime Learn about and examine what actions governmental leaders are doing to address crime. Get statistics about crime and invite special guests from the Attorney General's office; Mayor's office; Honolulu Police Department; Prosecutor's Office, and Public Defender's office to submit written material and send a representative (preferably someone other than a Roundtable member) to have an open discussion about the number of crimes reports as supplied by HPD & crime hotspot in the neighborhood, and the perception of crime and safety as reflected in the survey data we collect. We will also discuss the limitations to
government intervention and opportunities for community-based actions to deter crime.

2. February 9, 2023 - Nuisance Crimes, Street Harassment, and Interacting with Individuals Suffering from Mental Illness or Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol This session will seek the assistance of special guests to help us better understand some of the factors that may impact nuisance crimes and street harassment including mental illness, substance abuse, and juvenile or adolescent actions. These are often considered quality-of-life crimes. This interactive session will involve role-playing on how to respond, how to diffuse, and how to try to avoid challenging street encounters. It will also involve reviewing the hot spots in the neighborhood for opportunities to change the dynamic in those areas (beautification, repurposing, enhanced lighting, etc.).

3. February 23, 2023 - Violent Crime and Personal Safety This session will examine survey responses on feelings of personal safety and violent crime. Ask HPD to share data on violent crime trends, nature, and hot spots. Work to develop resources for the community on how to enhance personal safety. Special guests will be asked to inform the members about personal safety, defensive tools (weapons, alarms, trackers), and mitigation tactics.

4. March 16, 2023 - Property Crimes and Perceived Loss (including loss of business due to perceived crime rates in the area) This session will examine survey responses to community concerns about property crimes as well as business losses attributed to perceptions of crime in the Chinatown-Downtown neighborhood. Special guests will be asked to inform members about measures that may help mitigate these losses.

5. March 23, 2023 - Community Planning and Empowerment to Build a Better Future In this session, we reflect on what we have discovered and analyze community members' recommendations to identify actions that may enhance the safety of the community, improve the perception of safety in the community, and/or mitigate opportunities for criminal activity in the neighborhood. Ideally, we will identify at least three potential crime reduction or safety-enhancing proposals that could plausibly be implemented in the community.

6. April 13, 2023 - Community Planning and Empowerment to Build a Better Future Graduate students will report on their research into the potential crime-reduction or safety-enhancing proposals. Roundtable members will vote on which to try to operationalize and an action plan will be initiated. Undergraduate students will present the Community resource to Roundtable members who will offer suggestions for improving the resource or identify areas where additional information would be helpful to the community.

7. April 27, 2023 - Unveiling to the Community - MPR 3 - 6:00 - 8:00 pm

a. The Roundtable members and undergraduate students will unveil the resource which was created for the community. It will reflect all of the information gathered and presented at the Roundtable sessions.
b. The Roundtable members and graduate students will unveil the community-based initiative(s) which were generated through this process and the action plan(s) for practical, achievable, measurable implementation and assessment of results. Roundtable members can set up tables to advise the community on what they will need to operationalize the action plan and recruit those resources or assistance as may be appropriate.
c. Recognition of the Roundtable member's hard work and commitment. 


Oahu Currently has 4,000 individuals living on the island with a large population residing in the CDN. People get a sense of confidence in what they know, when people are out of their comfort zone, they feel uncomfortable. In other words, perception of CDN is the biggest reason people fear our neighborhood, people shouldn't fear what they don't know. Turns out that many people believe that CDN isn't well lit, CDN has many broken windows, and lots of trash. Turns out that CDN has lots of lighting, not broken windows but boarded-up windows, and although there is trash, it isn't severely dirty. In order to judge an area, one must not look from the outsider's perspective but should rather put themselves in the shoes of the community. Some solutions may be affecting the community because although we may think we are helping, the community themselves would prefer a different method. Change is based on perception, perspective, and willingness. As a community, we can now let one perspective influence the perception of our community and we must be willing to want change. With this knowledge we can't do anything until we act, one thing is learning about the issues that affect CDN; however, change comes when we can take that knowledge and do something about it and with it.

Quality of Life:

  • Nuisance Crimes, Street Harassment, and Interactions with Individuals Suffering from Mental Illness or Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
Nuisance Crime:
  • unreasonable or unlawful use of property that results in material annoyance, inconvenience, discomfort, or injury to another person or to the public
Issues in CDN with Nuisance Crime:
  • There is a large population of homeless people, and they live on the streets and alongside businesses and storefronts
  • Most store owners have a chosen homeless individual who is allowed to live on business fronts to avoid an accumulation of random homeless individuals
  • Possible Solution?: Put all homeless individuals in one area/ park
  • We should avoid this
  • River of Life used to reside in Chinatown and this only attracted a larger population of homeless individuals
  • Once River of Life was removed from the area, the population of homeless individuals decreased
  • One location for homeless individuals attracts drug deals and prostitution
Street Harassment:
  • unwelcome comments or contact of a sexual nature directed at a person by a stranger in a public place

Street Harassment in CDN:

  • Data shows (Grad Students Survey) that everyone is aware that certain behaviors, such as harassment, phobic slurs, unwanted whistling, being followed, public masturbation, and being groped are all unacceptable behaviors but many individuals aren't reporting these interactions to HPD
  • Noel Saunders found that respondents indicated 50% of harassment in CDN comes from homeless men that may be suffering from mental illness or are under the influence
  • Saunders shared that it's important to know that harassment “can happen to anyone.”
  • Unfortunately, nothing gets done to fix street harassment because no one gets involved until something happens to them or someone, they are close too
  • Possible Solutions?: Avoid dark areas/ Call 911
  • Quality of Life's proposed solutions: Fight the problem at the source and use CORE's resources to put individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse under healthcare supervision

Important Resources:

  • CORE
  • Narcan
What is CORE? ( :
  • A group of Homeless workers, park officials, social workers, and Health professionals come together to address the medical issues of homeless individuals by aiding one person at a time
  • Importance of CORE:
  • CORE is more affordable for the community when compared to EMTS. One EMT ride to the ER costs $2000. EMTs receive approximately 100,000 calls a year and aid individuals with at least 50,000 rides causing the government an annual fee of $100,000,000 because those who call can't afford the expenses. CORE manages to cut those yearly expenses in half.
  • CORE reduces the amount of housing taken up in healthcare facilities. The less space is taken up in a medical care facility the more aid can be provided equally.
  • CORE does not stop helping homeless individuals until they are successfully aided
  • CORE provides clothes, showers, meds, and diapers if needed to individuals with mental illness and supports them by taking them to the doctors cost-free.
  • CORE is more approachable than HPD for aid because CORE wears normal clothes as a uniform which consists of a red shirt.
  • CORE provides ride-alongs so that the community can see the challenges faced when dealing with homeless individuals.
  • Success Rate of CORE:
  • CORE makes about 1,000 contacts a year with the homeless community and aids 250 individuals in the correct direction. Their ratio is for every 100 people 25 are fully supported.
  • CORE encourages 90% of homeless individuals to talk and get involved because they are more approachable.
What is Narcan?:
  • It is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids
  • Positives of Narcan:
    • Narcan can save lives because it only takes 4-6 min before someone becomes brain-dead due to the narcotics
    • Narcan doesn't affect anyone in any other way meaning that if you aren't overdosing and are given Narcan absolutely nothing happens to that individual.
    • Narcan removes someone's high and helps them breathe and come back into reality.
  • Negatives of Narcan:
    • Taking away a random individual high can cause them to wake up angry and aggressive.
    • How to apply Narcan via needle:
    • How to apply Narcan via nasal spray:
Other important information to understand why CDN still has a large homeless population:
  • Social Workers fail to do their jobs / Structural impediments to success - need coordination/oversight at higher level
  • Affordable housing doesn't exist and the transition into a new home is difficult

Negative findings of social workers in CDN:

  • Social workers are failing to follow through with the check-ins of their patients.
  • Social workers lie about the visitation of their patients and end up finding out through a third party that their patient is falling back into their old habits.
  • Social workers aren't being held accountable for their mistakes.
  • Structural impediments to successfully monitoring and meeting the needs of these individuals exist which would require city-wide or state-wide coordination or oversight at a higher level.

What does affordable housing mean in CDN?:

  • Affordable housing is defined as not having to pay more than 30% of your income.
  • Issues with affordable housing:
  • Many individuals in CDN cannot afford to pay more than 30% more of their income simply because they aren't making enough money with a minimum wage of $12 per hour.