What It’s Like Being a Police Captain and Father During the Pandemic
Mike Lambert runs Honolulu Police Department programs for the homeless population, which, during the early stages of Honolulu’s lockdown, meant setting up new self-quarantine sites. He also stopped living with his kids.
Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a mail carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, a police captain and more back in April and May about the ways their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. Check back on honolulumagazine.com every week for a new story. Pick up the issue on newsstands in late June, subscribe or visit our online store.
Forty-year-old Captain Mike Lambert has been with HPD for 17 years, where his assignments have included patrol, the receiving desk and narcotics/vice; he now helps to run programs designed to help O‘ahu’s homeless. The Kamehameha Schools graduate moved from Kāne‘ohe to Ho‘opili in Kapolei last year with his two sons, who are 11 and 13. Here’s the full version of Lambert’s story in his own words, as told to Robbie Dingeman.
I run the homeless programs for the Police Department. I was managing the HONU program, which was very successful in connecting officers with shelter services. Before that, if an officer was encountering someone on a call or just through their workday, there was no option. It was, “Here’s your ticket; I don’t know what to tell you.” Now, officers have the option of calling our HPD programs to connect someone. Essentially, it’s our train station for the homeless serviced by civilian staff that are there to navigate them to an existing shelter.
When I was a patrol officer, I sometimes was the bad guy, but now with these new programs, I get to be the good guy. I like to think that I’m well-rounded in regard to experiences of seeing both sides of the coin and providing someone services to get them back on their feet as well as making sure that people are held accountable for things that can negatively affect the community.
I’m a single father of two. Prior to COVID-19, my workday would be on average 10 to 12 hours Monday through Friday. And at the end of the day, I would enjoy seeing my kids at night and on the weekend. So that was my life. I give what I can to the community, then I go home. My parents help me by taking the kids to school and picking them up every day because they know that I have these long days. My girlfriend helps out, too, when she can, and her kids would also come over to the house during the week. So, that was my routine.
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Then COVID-19 starts hitting the news and it just seemed so far away. It was just flashes in the headlines and you don’t think much of it. When it got real for me was when Japan had that first case. I started to think that with our tourism, it was inevitable that it would come here. So, we scrambled to come up with programs to make sure we had self-quarantine sites ready for homeless people.
My parents are retired and at the high-risk age. The fear was that I would potentially unknowingly catch COVID-19, give it to the kids and they take it to my parents’ house. So, since April 5, they’ve actually been full-time with my parents, which has been really hard for me. I know that our military families deal with it a lot, but for me, that was my reward at the end of the day, to see my kids. It’s been pretty hard. Now I’m working 12-to-14-hour days, weekends included, just trying to make sure that the services are there for the homeless community. I’m trying to do what I can out here and not seeing them every day makes it really difficult.
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Lambert with his sons, from left: Kaho‘omaka (age 13) and Nainoa (age 11).
Photo: Courtesy of Mike Lambert
It’s gotten so crazy, because no one really knows how long this will last. I do the Costco run for my parents and when I drop it off, I wear my mask in the house and I try to limit my visit to only half an hour. I don’t want to hug the kids; I don’t want to hug my parents. I try to just sit in one chair, just in case there was a possibility that I may have contracted COVID-19, that it’s a low risk for my parents and my children.
I just hope my boys understand. I love them a lot. I explained to them that Dad is out here putting in a lot of time because I’m just trying to do my little role to minimize COVID-19’s impact to our island. They support me and my parents support me. As tough as it is, I think that I’m doing what’s best for everyone’s family and that’s the sacrifice all first responders are making.
I’m actually just waiting for the headline that there is a vaccine. That’s really what I’m hoping for. Because I just know, in my experience, without a vaccine, we’ll beat it down and they’re going to unlock the state and then it’s going to have a spike back. We’re likely to loop and loop and loop. Everything prior to COVID-19 that seemed like such a big deal actually doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore. I think there are going to be some silver linings when this eases up. There’s going to be a greater appreciation for the things that we take for granted: seeing my kids daily, being able to hug and shake hands—simple things, just being at a restaurant with your family, going to the beach, everything that you kind of took for granted. For me personally, it’s put a lot of things in perspective.