Money has been available for nearly five years to install security cameras on Kuhio Avenue to protect residents and visitors from crime, but delays have left the plan languishing.
Bob Finley, Waikiki Neighborhood Board chairman, said frequent calls to the city have been made on behalf of Waikiki residents asking that the additional cameras be installed. The cameras would augment the half-dozen or so that are already in place on Kalakaua Avenue.
"Residents absolutely want them (on Kuhio)," Finley said. "It was almost a monthly inquiry under (former) Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Right now there is a great emphasis to get them up for APEC."
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings will bring heads of state from 21 countries, other world leaders and top business executives to Hawaii in November. While the Secret Service will coordinate security and bring in its own protection equipment for the high-level sessions, Hawaii Tourism Authority President and Chief Executive Mike McCartney said his agency, which is funding the project, wants to see Waikiki’s remaining security cameras in place before the meetings begin.
"The funds are available for whenever the city needs them," McCartney said. "We are enthusiastic to see the cameras getting started."
Mayor Peter Carlisle said Friday that a notice to proceed on the cameras would be issued shortly.
"Cameras will be in place by the time APEC occurs," Carlisle said in an email.
When asked, "Do you know what caused the delays for the Kuhio cameras?" Carlisle’s press secretary, Louise Kim McCoy, emailed the following response from Carlisle:
"Multiple issues including power, network connectivity, work that was done to put in poles, electricity etc., when Waikiki was renovated did not match drawings (Harris administration). Also factors were the design time to come up with solutions that fit within the HTA funds and the procurement process."
"Harris administration" refers to Jeremy Harris, who served as mayor from 1994 to 2004.
Whatever the reasons, the city has had nearly five years to sort them out.
The HTA agreed to pay $175,000 to the city in 2006 to install four Waikiki security cameras on Kuhio Avenue. The cameras were part of a package of crime-fighting tools recommended by Peter Tarlow, a crime consultant paid $100,000 by the HTA in 2005 to prepare a tourism safety plan.
"No one tool is a be-all and end-all, but when combined with other tools, CCTV devices can be very useful," said Tarlow.
The HTA-funded Waikiki cameras are expected to be operating before the end of summer at the intersections of Kuhio and Seaside avenues, and Kanekapolei, Nahua and Nohonani streets, said HTA strategic planner Momi Akimesu.
Finley said security cameras have been an effective crime-fighting tool for Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki’s main tourist street, for many years.
The cameras are monitored at the Police Department’s Waikiki substation by Aloha Ambassadors who work for the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, he said.
Aloha Ambassadors alert police officers when they see unusual or suspicious activity on the cameras, said Michelle Yu, Police Department spokeswoman. The cameras are primarily used to monitor vehicle and pedestrian traffic and criminal activity, Yu said.
"For example, the cameras have been helpful in finding suspects, locating missing children and monitoring drinking in public," she said. "Video captured on the cameras can be used as evidence in court."
Waikiki residents, who more frequently live on Kuhio Avenue and surrounding back streets, want to see evidence-quality cameras installed on Kuhio, Finley said.
"We have a group of people that come down to (Kuhio Avenue) to stir up trouble at night," said Finley, who has lived in Waikiki since the 1970s. "Kuhio and Seaside is probably our biggest crime corner in Waikiki. Getting witnesses is difficult when some of them may be jumping on a plane the next night."
When it comes to Waikiki, Kuhio Avenue often takes a back seat to Kalakaua Avenue, tourist town’s primary artery, said Stephany Sofos, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades.
"It’s smoke and mirrors. They put cameras on Kalakaua where they have all of the high-end stores and hotels," Sofos said. "That’s what people see when they see Waikiki. You go one block in to Kuhio Avenue and it’s seedy."
There are more drug deals, prostitutes and pimps on Kuhio Avenue than there are on the better-lighted, more closely watched Kalakaua Avenue, she said.
"Traditionally, they’ve looked the other way when it’s Kuhio, but we would feel more secure with cameras there," Sofos said.
The density of Waikiki nightclubs and late-night establishments on Kuhio Avenue increases the need for camera monitoring, Finley said.
"Some tourists come out at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and do silly things," Finley said. "We have a huge fear in Waikiki that we’ll have a tourist seriously injured or worse and that this would kill our golden egg big time."
Still, not all are in a rush for the cameras to go up. The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii has opposed the cameras and questioned their effectiveness. Data have shown that public surveillance measures are invasive, ineffective and erode privacy, said ACLU of Hawaii staff attorney Laurie A. Temple.
"While we all want to improve public safety, particularly given the upcoming APEC conference, it is foolish to spend limited funds on useless police state tactics when there are proven, effective methods available — like improved lighting, foot patrols and real community policing — that protect our fundamental rights to privacy and speech and reflect our true aloha spirit," Temple said.