Honolulu Prosecutor Candidate RJ Brown: 'Better Days Are Ahead For The Office'
Honolulu voters get to choose a new prosecutor this year. HPR will be profiling the candidates running for the office ahead of the Aug. 8 primary election.
Honolulu's prosecutor's office has been operating under a cloud since a federal probe targeted Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro as part of a corruption scandal that ensnared former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha and her husband, retired Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha.
But prosecuting attorney candidate RJ Brown says good work comes out of the office.
"There's something about that position that is fundamentally important to our community," he said. "I've worked there. I've tried a multitude of cases -- everything from drug possession to murder. And I understand the good that has been done, and the good that has to come out of that place."
Robert "RJ" Brown started his legal career as a deputy prosecutor after a stint as a reporter for Honolulu Civil Beat. Brown says he made the switch to law because he wanted to get more involved in finding solutions to the issues affecting Honolulu.
Restoring public trust in the prosecuting attorney's office is an issue he believes needs to be addressed right away. But he says it will take a multi-tiered approach to do that.
"You've got to go in there and make sure that people understand that the office culture is one where we prize and value integrity," Brown said.
"You can't have a prosecutor's office where the deputy is concerned about wins and losses. It's got to be about what is the right thing to do."
Brown says in addition to changing the office culture, policies need to be implemented to increase transparency. He believes in order to do that, an audit of the department is needed.
"Get a third party in there, have them evaluate every facet of the office. From case dispositions, what cases were charged, what were the outcomes, what specific deputies were touching them."
Brown says another issue that needs to be addressed is public safety. He cites the increase in violent crimes on O?ahu before the COVID-19 outbreak, saying "it seemed like things were really on the wrong track."
"My concern, personally, is that in light of COVID, we're seeing unemployment numbers go up -- you're going to see greater desperation within our community, and you're going to see an increase in crime," Brown said.
"And so we've got to be prepared for that as law enforcement. We've got to train the deputies to be able to win the cases that they got to win."
Brown says there needs to be focus on serious crimes and making sure the priorities and resources of the department are in the right areas -- especially when it comes to prosecuting career criminals. In order to accomplish that, he says he will restructure the department in a way that will not only improve the training of deputy prosecutors, but also allow the office to better address crimes in the 21st century.
While public safety is a priority for Brown, he does believe improvements can be made to the justice system, if it's "morally correct." One example, mass incarceration.
"The idea that we can be tough on crime, and you can use incarceration as your sort of de facto tool, to address everything from drug addiction to violent crimes, I think we're seeing the results of that," he said.
"It's a short-sighted mentality. And it may sound good to a voter, and it may feel good in a certain way to say, 'Hey, we're going to be tough on this. And we're going to bang them and throw them in prison.' But you got to think about the consequences of those types of decisions.
If you are just throwing somebody in prison, the reality is the vast, vast majority of these individuals are coming out. Have we equipped them with tools to assist them when they get out?"
He says he will support "radical expansion" of diversion and rehabilitation programs for non-violent and drug offenders, and those with mental illness to circumvent prison time. While Brown admits that no program is perfect, he says it is something he's willing to take a chance on.
"In my mind, if there is a slightly higher likelihood that if you put somebody into treatment, that they're going to have a smaller chance of reoffending down the line, that's a win. And that's a risk I'm willing to take, and ultimately that's an investment that I'm willing to make."
Brown says the knowledge and experience he's gained from being a deputy prosecutor will help him lead the department into the future. But no matter what happens in the upcoming election, he believes there are better days to come for the office.