Even when he was a kid, Dave Moskowitz loved Waikiki. As a teenager, he’d take the bus there at night from his home in Ewa Beach — it cost a quarter back then — to stroll the brightly lit streets in the evening hours.
Now he manages a restaurant there.
But it seems to him that Waikiki is changing, becoming grittier and attracting young adults who are looking for something other than a good time out.
“A lot of people are really upset about what’s going on,” Moskowitz said. “There are kids — punks — who come to town and assault people at night.”
He talked to local police officers about it and they suggested a plan, which he broached to the newly elected Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, who represents the area from Kakaako to Waikiki.
Honolulu police officers on the job in Waikiki.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The result was Senate Bill 637, which proposed banning people convicted of three misdemeanors committed in Waikiki from being in the popular resort district from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Violations could result in 30-day jail terms.
A companion bill, House Bill 1304, was sponsored by House Speaker Scott Saiki, who represents downtown Honolulu. Neither has received a committee hearing.
Moriwaki said her bill targeted people who go to Waikiki with criminal intent.
“They are nuisances, and they are coming back and coming back,” she said. Her goal, she said, was to instill “more discipline in the area so people here can have more peace.”
Crime levels in Waikiki were generally stable from 2017 to 2018, according to monthly briefings provided by the Honolulu Police Department to the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, but there has been a steady stream of disturbing events. In just three months, from August to October last year, according to the same data, there were 15 robberies, 45 burglaries, 615 thefts, 128 assaults and 14 sex crimes in Waikiki.
In particular, a string of violent attacks in 2017 and 2018, including separate stabbings of two service members, ages 21 and 23, and the rape of a 21-year-old woman, drew widespread attention. In December 2017, the Armed Services Disciplinary Board warned service members that some parts of Waikiki should be considered “high-risk areas.”
Neighborhood board member Louis Erteschik said the proposal has generated strong feelings in Waikiki.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The perception of a rising crime level “is concerning,” said disability-rights advocate Louis Erteschik, vice chair of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board. “Waikiki is supposed to be a pretty safe place. You don’t expect to be beat up and killed if you go out for a beer.”
The neighborhood board has not taken a position on the legislation or held a hearing of any kind on it.
Critics said it would unfairly limit some people’s activities and could have unintended consequences.
“Freedom of travel is an aspect of personal liberty,” said Joshua Wisch, executive director of the ACLU in Hawaii. “We want our communities to be safe too but we want it to happen in a way that secures all our civil liberties.”
Rep. Gregg Takayama, chair of the House Public Safety, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, said he worried the law could hurt people who are have criminal pasts but who now hold jobs in Waikiki, maybe through work furlough programs.
“Many of our former offenders who are trying to work their way back into society do so at entry level jobs that can include dishwashing and include janitorial and custodial jobs, many of them at Waikiki,” Takayama said.
Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said that if the bill had gained traction, DPS officials would have sought an amendment to allow exceptions “during the hours of transport to, from and during the scheduled hours of legitimate employment in the district, for those who would otherwise be restricted by this proposal.”
Moskowitz said the proposal could help make Waikiki safer.
“I’m a guy trying to save his community,” Moskowitz said. “I’m stunned by the amount of crime taking place in Waikiki, just stunned.”
He said the bill was modeled after anti-prostitution legislation passed by the state in 1998 that established a new new crime called street solicitation and banned streetwalkers from Waikiki from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. as a condition of probation. Civil libertarians criticized the law, but it was widely popular because of a perception that it helped clean up crime.
Sen. Sharon Moriwaki
Moskowitz and Moriwaki both said the prostitute restrictions had a positive effect on Waikiki.
“It helped,” she said.
In Waikiki itself, the latest proposal has also met with a mixed response. Jessica Lani Rich, president and chief executive officer of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, which provides assistance to tourists who become crime victims, said she understood why it surfaced.
“What I do know is that the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii has seen an increase in young adults contributing to our crime in Waikiki,” she said.
Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, called it an interesting idea.
“I’m not prepared to offer support at this time but I understand the motivation behind it,” Egged said. “It’s worthy of discussion.”
Some members of the neighborhood board have heard vitriolic criticism of the proposal, although they had no role in crafting it or endorsing it. Three members received what board president Bob Finley called “threatening messages” from a person who believed the board was responsible for the legislation.
Erteschik, who received one of the calls, said it came from a man who was “screaming and yelling,” who believed the bill was a “subterfuge for kicking homeless people out of Waikiki.” He thought the man may have been homeless or was an advocate for the homeless.
Update: The outcome for the legislation is technically still uncertain. The House version of the bill is dead at this time but Sen. Moriwaki has asked Sen. Karl Rhoads, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to hear the bill and she said he has indicated he may do so.
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Kirstin Downey was a reporter for Honolulu Civil Beat. A former Washington Post reporter and author of several books, she splits her time between Hawaii and Washington, D.C. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org