Up to 50 police security cameras are being installed in Waikiki as part of a new initiative to reduce crime in the popular resort district.
The surveillance initiative, which has not yet been formally announced, is already drawing praise from the tourism industry and skepticism from civil liberties advocates.
The plan to install security cameras came to light in an informational update by Brandon Barbour, vice president of operations at the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, at the Nov. 13 meeting of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board.
Brandon told the board that up to 40 more police security cameras will be installed in Waikiki in coming months. Ten have already been installed, he said.
Andrew Pereira, Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s spokesman, said the cost and details of the Waikiki surveillance program will be disclosed at a future news conference.
The installation of the security cameras is part of a collaborative effort between the city and the Honolulu Police Department to help reduce crime in Waikiki.
In a telephone interview this week, Barbour declined to answer further questions, and referred calls to his supervisor, Jennifer Nakayama, president of the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association.
In an email, Nakayama said she was not available to discuss the program at this time and referred calls to the police department and the city, noting the effort is “being led by the city.”
This initiative comes in the wake of a Waikiki crime summit in February that brought together 200 local officials, including people from the tourism industry, police department, social service agencies, government bodies, the military and local business groups to talk about ways to curb crime in Waikiki.
Crime levels in Waikiki are mostly stable, although there was a 5 percent increase in calls for police assistance in Waikiki in the first eight months of 2018 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to monthly briefings provided by the Honolulu Police Department to the Waikiki Neighborhood Board.
Even so, the number of reported sex crimes dropped 32 percent and the number of reported assaults declined 5 percent year over year, according to the police.
But a series of three violent attacks in Waikiki in the past year has riveted public attention on neighborhood crime.
In October 2017, a 23-year-old Marine, William Brown, was stabbed to death during an attempted robbery. In January, a 21-year-old woman reported that she had been raped and beaten by a man she met in Waikiki.
In March, a 25-year-old military man was discovered by police in the Honolulu Zoo parking lot, a victim of a stabbing attack. He was badly injured but recovered.
Military Cites ‘Danger Zones’
In December 2017, the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board warned service members that some parts of Waikiki should be considered “high risk areas,” and was considering making them off limits to military personnel and their families.
The Armed Forces board cited several spots along Kalakaua Avenue as danger zones, particularly in the early morning hours.
At the meeting last week, Waikiki board members appeared to be pleased but somewhat surprised to hear the new police cameras are coming.
In recent meetings, board members had expressed concern about crime levels in Waikiki but had asked for the police presence in the area to be increased, not for security cameras.
Jessica Lani Rich, president and chief executive officer of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, which provides assistance to tourists who become victims of crime, said she did not know specifics of the plan but that the idea to install security cameras around Waikiki was approved “by general consensus” at the crime summit.
“I think it would definitely help with security in Waikiki,” Rich said in an interview. “If criminals know a camera is watching them they won’t be so fast to take a wallet if they know they can be identified. More cameras would make visitors feel safer, too.”
She said that the cameras would be worthwhile if they prevented even one crime from occurring. She said it took only one event — the 2005 disappearance of an Alabama teenager, Natalee Ann Holloway, who is believed to have been murdered — to badly damage Aruba’s tourism industry.
“Their tourism was never the same after that incident,” Rich said.
Joshua Wisch, president of the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, however, expressed concern about the installation of security cameras in Waikiki.
“There is just no reason for Big Brother tactics like this in Waikiki,” Wisch wrote in an email. “Carpeting our public spaces with permanent 24/7 government video surveillance poses grave concerns for individual privacy and due process rights that all of us care about.”
He said the ACLU would request and review the administrative rules proposed by the city for the project, and ask questions about how the program will be implemented. The ACLU will want to know where video will be recorded, where it will be stored, who will have access to it, and whether safeguards will be put in place to prevent information from being used for racial profiling or stalking.
Kathryn Henski, a Waikiki board member who has asked for more police officer coverage in the district, said she doubted the cameras would do much to reduce crime because the police department, which has had problems recruiting new officers, doesn’t have enough staff to monitor them.
“Who is going to sit there and monitor the cameras, to get there quickly enough to stop crime?” she asked. “It will help identify people who caused a crime but it won’t stop a crime.”
She said she believed the cameras were an effort “to soothe the public, to make them feel more secure,” but she does not believe it will be an effective deterrent.
She said Barbour’s announcement was the first she had heard of the plan to install police cameras, and that Waikiki board members have not been told where they would be installed.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.