Catherine Toth Fox: Will A Change In Hours Help Curb Crime At This Popular Waikiki Beach? - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

The decision to close Kuhio Beach from midnight to 5 a.m. follows the launch of the Safe and Sound program in September.

For more than 20 years, I’ve been surfing in the early morning in Waikiki, getting to Kuhio Beach well before sunrise. And I’ve seen it all. Fist fights. Shouting matches. Drug deals. Walks of shame. Drunken revelers passed out on the beach. Naked people bathing in public showers.

And worse. I was once hit in the face by a homeless woman while crossing Kalakaua Avenue with my board. For no reason — at least not a reason that was apparent to me.

In an effort to curb crime and loitering at night — and by the request of frustrated and fed-up residents and business owners — the city is extending Kuhio Beach’s daily closure by two hours.

That means the beach, which stretches from the Honolulu Police Department’s Waikiki substation to the Kapahulu Groin, will be closed from midnight to 5 a.m., instead of 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., starting this week.

These new hours align with beach and park closures on both sides of Kuhio Beach. Kapahulu Groin, Kapiolani Park and the beaches fronting it, which include Kaimana Beach, are closed from midnight to 5 a.m. Same for the other side of Kuhio Beach; Royal Hawaiian Beach, which is a private beach with public access, expanded its closure hours to match. (Most other city-run beaches and parks are closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.)

In a May 11 letter to Honolulu Parks Director Laura Thielen, Robert Finley, chair of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, requested the earlier closure time because of the “drug dealing, prostitution, homeless encampments and the litter to include needles, feces and urine as well as general trash” in the area.

Gas Torches lit up near the Kuhio Beach Park hula mound.
Gas torches light up near Kuhio Beach Park, which is a center for nighttime entertainment in Waikiki. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

I know exactly what he’s talking about. We see hotel workers and church volunteers cleaning up trash and, yes, even poop on sidewalks and in doorways. We see the cans and bottles, food wrappers and other ditched items strewn on the beach, not to mention people sleeping under trees and along sidewalks. What Finley describes is not an exaggeration — and I don’t even live in Waikiki.

But will the extended closure of Kuhio Beach make that much of a difference?

I chatted with a few of the early morning surfers, some of whom live in the neighborhood. No one seemed to think it would change much.

This latest attempt to address ongoing crime in Waikiki comes on the heels of the city’s launch of the Safe and Sound Waikiki program in September, which aims to crack down on criminals — particularly repeat offenders — in the state’s top tourist destination.

Critics of the program say there are no immediate consequences for chronic offenders, who are supposed to be banned from returning to the areas where they commit crimes.

Parks department spokesman Nathan Serota said aligning the closure hours at Kuhio Beach with neighboring parks and beaches will help police enforce trespassing laws. (You can legally traverse the park and beach to access the ocean during closure hours; you just can’t remain in the park or on the beach.)

Kuhio Beach early closure hours
Department of Parks and Recreation staff install signs listing the change in hours along Kuhio Beach Park. (Courtesy: Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation/2023)

“It’s really to make enforcement a lot easier for police and any security because now you have more consistent rules across the parks and it’s easier to see when illegal activity is going on,” he said in an interview. “When one area is closed to hours before another area, it makes it much more difficult to identify and enforce illegal activity. You need to have that kind of consistency.”

The city has already put up gates with locks in the pavilions along the makai side of Kalakaua Avenue — hot spots, Serota says, for loitering and criminal activity. Some of them have been “activated,” or leased to vendors and turned into concessions. One sells smoothies, another rents beach equipment.

And since 2019, the city has been quietly installing landscaping by these pavilions to make them more inviting.

“It’s the ʻbroken window’ theory,” Serota explains. “When something looks bad, it attracts bad things. We really want all park facilities to be inviting to all people and keep negative and criminal activity out.”

HPD reported more arrests in Waikiki, but a quick look at its crimemapping tool online shows an assortment of crimes in the area in just the past week, from theft to car break-ins to aggravated assault.

It seems to me the challenge is twofold: not enough resources to deal with the state’s homeless crisis and not enough police to enforce existing laws. Closing beaches is part of the solution, sure, but crime and homelessness won’t magically go away without a real investment into social services, affordable housing and law enforcement.

Added Finley: “I hope (city prosecutor) Steve Alm, the city and state will be able to take the homeless of the streets and give them treatment that leads to getting them in housing while the hardcore criminals need to find a new home in jail. We are spending millions of dollars in tax money and I hope it is well spent.”

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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

"It’s the ʻbroken window’ theory," Serota explains. "When something looks bad, it attracts bad things."This is so true to form for nearly every inch of Honolulu today. What looks good and maintained? We have weeds growing 4 ft tall in the medians, pot holed roads, trash, homeless camps on every street corner and park. What could go wrong if we don't want the broken window theory? And here's the real thrust of the problem. The city can create more rules and regulations for the citizens of the Oahu, but still fail to address the root cause of the problem. Lack of enforcement and penalization. That's really all that needs to change to get things cleaned up. No signage necessary. The air of "compassion" for all is what has brought us here. It needs to change. In the good old days, the Metro Squad was the enforcement branch of HPD, but that may be thought to be too heavy handed by some today. Why not simply round up all the known, repeat and serial violators, take them to a "holding warehouse" for processing, send most of them back to the mainland and put them on a no fly back list. The rest get mental help and kicked out of Waikiki, or go to a real jail cell.

wailani1961 · 3 months ago

The solution is obvious: 1) build more cells and lock these people up. 2) compel drug rehab AND mental healthcare/medication. 3) failure to comply gets you locked up off island, with your parole violated if you try to return. Less than 1% are ruining the quality of life for the rest of us. Time to criminalize this behavior.

TannedTom · 3 months ago

Sell Waikiki to developers who will turn it into a private resort. This allows them to actually enforce as they see fit while relieving the C&C of the "burden". As an extra added bonus, GET+TAT will still apply.

fiftythree · 3 months ago

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