Gathering together on Waikiki’s Kalakaua Avenue, surrounded by a phalanx of uniformed and plainclothed police, Honolulu city and business leaders pledged a unified and coordinated crackdown on crime in Waikiki at a press conference Tuesday.
Steve Alm, the city’s prosecutor, said he will work closely with other city officials and the Honolulu Police Department to find, prosecute and punish repeat offenders in the tourist hub.
“It’s about arresting and prosecuting the serial thieves that we have so many of in Waikiki that are driving the businesses in Waikiki crazy,” Alm said.
He said he will charge more people with felonies under the habitual property offender statute. He later mentioned two such offenders — a man who has been convicted of theft 161 times, mostly involving alcohol sales at ABC stores, and a woman who is well known, he said, for entering retail stores and running out with armloads of stolen merchandise.
Alm said he will ask judges to impose orders restricting people convicted of crimes from visiting Waikiki for six months or a year, something he said had been done successfully in the past. He said geographic restrictions of this kind would deter repeat criminal activity by regular perpetrators who keep returning to Waikiki.
“No offense, but we all know there are a number of people — young males in particular — who come to Waikiki to drink, party, fight, rip off tourists and generally cause trouble,” Alm said. “By ordering them to stay out of Waikiki for six months or a year that will definitely help reduce crime.”
The idea of geographic bans has sparked controversy in the past. In 2019, a proposed state law that would have banned people convicted of three misdemeanors from being in Waikiki at night was criticized by the the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union as a violation of personal liberty. The law didn’t pass.
Alm said he did not believe those concerns would arise again because the geographic restrictions would apply only to those convicted of crimes, and would not include people who have a reason to be in Waikiki, either because they live or work there or receive mental health or substance abuse treatment there.
Paul Kosasa, president and CEO of ABC Stores, pledged $90,000 to hire an executive to coordinate the public safety efforts being undertaken by a number of Waikiki groups. He said it was important to take action now, noting that he had recently visited Las Vegas, where he noticed that armed guards were stationed in convenience stores, something he said he hoped would not come to Hawaii.
City Council chair Tommy Waters, who is running for reelection in the district that includes Waikiki, said he was enthusiastic about the ways community officials were coming together to address long-standing problems in Waikiki. But he said judges are failing to do their part by giving overly lenient sentences. He said too many criminals are sentenced only to time served, which he said was not enough to adequately deter crime.
“The community is stepping up,” he said. “We need the judges and the judiciary to step up.”
Mayor Rick Blangiardi said the two biggest problems in Waikiki are crime and homelessness. He said he intended to deal with both problems as aggressively as possible, including by opening up more residential treatment beds for people with mental health and substance abuse problems.
“We are working on places to take people,” he said. “That’s really the key element. We are in negotiations with a number of properties to provide services and get these people off the street.”
He also promised to fix broken infrastructure in Waikiki. Gesturing to a long-broken water fountain, a nearby mound of dirt and a derelict telephone booth, he pledged to get things repaired, cleaned or removed. He said he should be held accountable by voters if he fails to do so.
“This is a show of force and unity,” he said. “Beginning now we are taking back Waikiki.”
He said that residents of Waikiki have felt ignored by city officials as crime rose.
“Waikiki is not a forgotten place,” he said.
Waikiki’s problems were on display as the event played out. As the officials addressed the crowd, a bare-chested and heavily tattooed man pushed his bicycle into the crowd, jostling participants and causing police to step up to prevent a disturbance. A woman moaned and talked to herself as she wheeled a suitcase along the sidewalk a few feet away from the press conference.
Other signs of public aggression or mental health disorders were also on display in Waikiki, underscoring the magnitude of the task ahead, something Waters acknowledged.
“There was a woman screaming her head off,” Waters noted. “She needs help.”
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a reporter for Civil Beat. A long-time 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. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.