Young military members were lined up Friday waiting to get into Moose McGillycuddy’s and other Waikiki establishments.
They were a major part of Waikiki’s late-night economy despite a recent warning issued by the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board informing service members of violent crime and other illegal activity in Waikiki.
“Yeah, we’re aware of the warning,” said one military member, who didn’t want to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. “But Waikiki isn’t off limits. We feel safe.”
However, according to the notice that was issued in late December and directed at military members and their families, he and other service members might have cause for concern. Moose McGillycuddy’s was one of 13 Waikiki establishments, stretching from Kapahulu Avenue to Lewers Street, listed as part of the “high-risk area.”
|ON THE LIST
Waikiki clubs listed in military warning:
>> Playbar Night Club
>> Hawaii by Night
>> Club Alley Cat
>> Club Addiction
>> Tsunami’s Waikiki
>> Club Onoe
>> Kelly O’Neil’s
>> Moose McGillycuddy’s Pub & Cafe
>> Sky Waikiki
>> Envy Nightclub
>> Lulu’s/Tiki’s bars
The notice states that the disciplinary board estimates that during the past six months there have been more than 1,000 violent drug- and alcohol-related arrests in the vicinity of the intersection of Kalakaua and Royal Hawaiian avenues and the intersection of Kapahulu and Kalakaua avenues.
The notice mentions the death of a Marine, referring to William H. Brown, a 23-year-old Kaneohe-based sergeant who was stabbed multiple times Oct. 21. The incident happened at about 1 a.m. at the corner of Royal Hawaiian and Kalakaua avenues when a verbal exchange escalated into an altercation.
“The intent is to better inform chains of command, military members and their families of high risk areas while the AFDCB determines whether certain establishments and locations should be recommended for off limits designations pursuant to Federal and Department of Defense regulations,” the notice said.
Military members who visit off-limits establishments may be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Deputy Police Chief John McCarthy said they only became aware of the notice Thursday and will continue to work with the military to keep its members and others safe.
“We’ve reached out to the highest levels and spoken to them,” McCarthy said. “Regardless of who you are — a citizen, resident or military — Waikiki is still a safe place.”
Caldwell said violent crime is uncommon in Waikiki and other parts of Oahu, which he touts as one of the nation’s “safest big cities.” Honolulu police were out in full force Friday to reinforce that perception.
In recent months, Caldwell said, the city has gotten 10 street cameras along Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues up and running and is working with businesses to identify private-sector areas that need cameras. McCarthy said a few months ago HPD began using new recruits to supplement Waikiki police and shifted schedules to double the district’s late-night and early-morning watch. The department is prioritizing recruitment so that it can fill shortages and deploy more officers to Waikiki and other areas where they are needed.
Caldwell said military leaders have not indicated that crime is one of their top priorities, but he’s aware that they’ve been warning members of “bad places to go,” not just in Waikiki, but also in other places like Wahiawa, Kalihi and Kaneohe. Caldwell said he thinks the warning is “a good thing” like when the city advises tourists and residents of high-surf areas and other cautions.
But some Waikiki businesses and residents fear several recent high-profile violent crimes have tarnished Waikiki’s reputation, and called the warning a “wake-up” call about the importance of keeping the state’s top tourist district safe.
Jerry Dolak, president of the Hawaii Hotel & Visitor Security Association, said the military notice “validates what we already know and we are already addressing.”
Dolak said he’s been impressed by HPD’s recent response, which has included more bike patrols. He’s hopeful that all interested parties will keep public safety front and center, especially in Waikiki, which is “everyone’s business.”
HTA President and CEO George Szigeti said crime in Waikiki was the industry’s top concern when tourism leaders last met with Caldwell and Police Chief Susan Ballard.
“The chief outlined HPD’s plan of action to address the causes of criminal activity. We have every confidence in HPD’s ability to protect the public and keep Waikiki as safe as possible,” Szigeti said.
Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said it’s not enough to say that Waikiki is still safe; actions have to reinforce the rhetoric.
“We have to re-engage all the stakeholders because if we don’t it could lead to a crisis of confidence,” Hannemann said.
That’s why, he said, he and others in the visitor industry have organized a Visitor Public Safety Conference, which will be held Feb. 27 at the Sheraton Waikiki. Hannemann said hot topics at the conference are likely to include crimes committed by and against the military, at-risk youth and the possible elimination of cabaret liquor licenses that allow Waikiki establishments to serve liquor until 4 a.m.
So far, Waikiki crimes haven’t yet hurt tourism, which just achieved its sixth record-setting year. Next year, if all goes well, some 9.5 million visitors are expected to visit Hawaii. While tourism is on a tear, Hannemann said momentum could falter if Hawaii is no longer seen as a safe place.
“Waikiki is the engine of tourism, and it generates huge tax money,” said Sam Shenkus, marketing director for Royal Hawaiian Center. “If it becomes known as a scary place where no one wants to come, it could have huge repercussions. Just look at what happened to Mexico.”
Economic losses would be severe if the the military board’s concerns escalate into an off-limits directive, said Bob Nelson, manager at Moose McGillycuddy’s, a Lewers street establishment on the list.
“A lot of people come to Waikiki to visit military friends. If they can’t come out, it would take out a lot of tourism as well,” Nelson said.
Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said the dampening would be far-reaching.
“It could hurt retail and tourism and impact all of Hawaii,” Yamaki said. “There’s a trickle-down impact — everyone from farmers and distributors to employees and other local businesses could see declines.”