Privately funded police operations in Waikiki have led to hundreds of citations and a handful of arrests over the last year, but the longstanding practice of paying the police in District 6 is coming under fire from advocacy groups.

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The Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, a nonprofit comprised of business owners and tenants, gave the Honolulu Police Department $85,000 last September to “address various illegal activities on the public sidewalks in specific areas in Waikiki.”

Since then, the money has been used to conduct 45 operations resulting in more than 840 citations and seven misdemeanor arrests for crimes such as disorderly conduct and unlawfully selling goods on public property.

According to monthly reports by the Honolulu Police Department detailing the use of the donation, operations funded by the business improvement district have also led to over 380 citations for disobeying park rules or the mayor’s emergency order, 104 citations for smoking in prohibited areas and 66 citations for littering since the money was awarded last year.

All Terrain Vehicles parked fronting the Honolulu Police Department Waikiki substation. The HPD uses these vehicles to cite people on the beach and parks. September 2, 2020
All-terrain vehicles parked in front of the Honolulu Police Department Waikiki substation, in September, the same month the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association gifted HPD money to help crack down on crime in the district. HPD uses the ATVs to patrol the beaches and parks. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“The money goes to operations that are within the physical Waikiki boundary, so it all goes back into Waikiki only,” Jennifer Nakayama, president of the WBIDA, said. “Operations that the HPD feels can better serve the community, quality of life, whether those are plain-clothed operations, undercover, or in uniformed officers, that’s up to HPD command and what they feel is prudent and necessary.”

An additional 35 people were cited for jaywalking and 64 for violating sit-lie laws — an ordinance that primarily targets homeless individuals — in connection with the operations over the last year.

So far, HPD has used less than half of the money earmarked solely for Waikiki, the smallest district on Oahu.

Despite that, the business improvement district gave the police district another $85,000, which was accepted by the City Council earlier this month. According to Nakayama, any money that is not spent will roll over to the next fiscal year.

The funding gifted last year has already gone further in terms of both arrests and citations than the $85,000 the WBIDA gave to the police in September 2019 — which resulted in four arrests and 522 citations stemming from 85 operations that exhausted the funds by August 2020.

However, Nakayama said that the effect that cannot be quantified is the increased police presence. She added that the purpose of the donation was to “equip HPD with monetary means to do operations that hopefully thwart unfavorable activity.

“So that whether you are a resident, tourist, or business owner in Waikiki, that’s one less thing that you had to face.”

In a statement, Honolulu Police Maj. Mark Cricchio, the District 6 commander, wrote: “Since 2012, the WBID has given $75,000 to $85,000 annually to HPD to use toward improving Waikiki for the people who visit, work and live there. Typical grant-funded activities include pedestrian safety, sidewalk obstruction and peddling, and excessive noise. The grant enables supplemental officers to focus on these areas while on-duty officers respond to calls for service. The HPD appreciates the WBID’s support.”

According to Cricchio, the money is used to pay off-duty officers overtime to work on business district assignments.

HPD has received at least $2 million from the business association since 2005, when $75,000 was donated, according to a review of the WBIDA’s financial records. Over the following two years, the business district gave at least $300,000 to the police department. It reduced its donation to $75,000 in 2008. Since then, the only year that the WBIDA did not give money to the police department was 2010.

HPD Honolulu Police officers patrol along Kalakaua Avenue during COVID-19 pandemic. October 28, 2020
Honolulu police officers patrol along Kalakaua Avenue. Some critics worry that Waikiki is getting special treatment from HPD because of a business organization grant to the department. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“This raises many questions and concerns, one of which is that it’s disturbing to discover that Waikiki businesses are using the Honolulu Police Department as their personal private security,” said Jessica Hernandez, a member of HPC Taskforce, a local volunteer-run police watchdog coalition. “I’m also reminded that policing, as a system, was created to protect power and wealth. So while it’s disturbing, this practice fits squarely into the history of police and policing as well as its origins.”

Other Districts Have More Crime

According to the Honolulu Police Department’s latest annual report, District 6 has less crime than any other district on Oahu. Last year, there were just over 2,200 index crimes — serious crimes such as murder, burglary, robbery, and aggravated assault — committed in the district.

In comparison, there were just under 6,000 violent crimes committed in the neighboring District 1, the district with the most reported index crimes, where Chinatown is in the midst of a decades-long struggle with homelessness and violence. To the east of Waikiki lies the much larger District 7, the district with the second-most index crimes reported last year.

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“We need more resources from the police because we have been so under-policed for so long and we are just beginning to take baby steps,” Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business and Community Association, said. “When you look at stats every week it is kind of mind-boggling for such a small place. We have such a concentration of crime.”

The Chinatown Improvement District reported an annual revenue of less than $40,000 in 2020 and spent a portion to hire security guards — who Shubert-Kwock said had little training — while the WBIDA reported more than $4 million in revenue and spent a little over 2% of that on their gift to police.

“I really think that we need experienced police officers to man this highly criminal area so you have better results,” Shubert-Kwock said. “We are really justified to have more police on foot here.”

Even though the WBIDA funds have been labeled a “gift” by the City Council, they come with a string attached: the money must go to District 6, according to the resolution accepting the money.

“That’s not a donation. That’s a contract,” said Paul Boden, Director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that has been conducting research into the relationship between business districts and police departments. “If you attach a scope of work to a donation it’s now a contract.”

Nakayama disagreed with the notion that the funding constitutes a contract.

“To me a contract is very defined in quantities of, say in this case, operations,” Nakayama said. “It is defined in a specific geographic area.”

Nakayama acknowledged that the gift does promote police activity in a specific geographical area, but said “that wouldn’t be akin to anything different than what the Waikiki BID does for any other aspect in the sense that we are a business-funded organization. Only Waikiki businesses pay the special assessment to this organization to do the Clean and Safe activities, and so for that reason we do specifically keep things within Waikiki, because it needs to go back into the community that is funding the organization to begin with.”

The WBIDA’s annual gift to the police department has come under fire before and although the City Council has unanimously voted to accept the gift over at least the last four years, that has not always been the case.

In 2006, council member Barbara Marshall told her fellow council members to reject the gift, warning that “there is going to be a bidding war where whoever has the most money gets the police services.”

The resolution passed that day, although Marshall and one of her colleagues, Todd Apo, voted against it.

For the next three years, the resolution was unanimously passed until it was brought back in front of the City Council in 2011. That year, council member Nestor Garcia voted against it and both Ikaika Anderson and Romy Cachola voted for it but noted their reservations.

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