Waikiki stakeholders are growing increasingly concerned that serious criminal activity like murders, youth gangs and prostitution could mar the state’s top tourist district.
More than 200 experts, concerned citizens and businesses gathered Tuesday at the Sheraton Waikiki for a Visitor Public Safety Conference to address these emerging challenges as well as crimes against tourists, crimes by tourists, problems with homelessness and drug- and alcohol-related offenses.
Concerns heated up last year as news of several high-profile Waikiki crimes — especially those involving street youth — began circulating. There were four slayings in Waikiki last year. While that number is low compared with other urban destinations,
Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard said it’s “way too many for Waikiki.”
Ballard said there were two more aggravated assaults in Waikiki in 2017 than there were in 2016. So far in 2018 it’s about the same level, she said.
“We need it to go down,” she said.
Police arrested teenage assailants in two of the murders and in the Oct. 6 attack on a 21-year-old Schofield Barracks soldier who was beaten with a baseball bat and stabbed repeatedly. A 14-year-old boy was charged with second-degree assault in connection with the beating, which happened near the intersection of Lewers Street and Kalakaua Avenue in the wee morning hours.
Jordan Smith, 18, was charged in September with second-degree murder in the death of Maleko “Mac” Remlinger. He also was charged with one count of first-degree attempted murder, two counts of second-degree attempted murder and four firearm
A 16-year-old male was charged in October with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Sgt. William H. Brown, a 23-year-old Kaneohe-based Marine who was stabbed multiple times, following a
1 a.m. altercation at the corner of Royal Hawaiian and Kalakaua avenues.
The attacks on military members led the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board to issue a December warning informing service members of violent crime and other illegal activity in Waikiki.
Lt. Col. Ken Phillips, deputy director of emergency services at U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, said the warning was intended as “a dialogue.”
The advisory, which singled out 13 potentially risky Waikiki establishments, estimated that there had been 1,000 arrests involving violent crimes or drugs and alcohol near the intersections of Kalakaua and Royal
Hawaiian avenues and Kalakaua and Kapahulu avenues over 180 days.
Phillips, who spoke at the event, said none of the establishments have gone before the board, which might recommend that military commands place them off-limits for service members. But Phillips said the board’s next meeting in a few weeks will “further the discussion” about Waikiki’s safety.
“Hopefully, an outgrowth of the event will be to work with the military to address their concerns,” said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association (HLTA), which partnered with Honolulu City Council member Trevor Ozawa to host the event.
Ozawa said the event steering committee will reconvene soon to see how it can implement suggestions from conference speakers and attendees. Ideas ranged from capital spending to adjusting rules and policies to community involvement.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro recommended building a new prison to eliminate space constraints that force selective prosecution.
“I think we need between 6,000 and 7,500 beds statewide,” Kaneshiro said. “It’s imperative to crime fighting that criminals know there are consequences.”
Kaneshiro envisions enough prison space to provide in-house drug and mental health treatment. Kaneshiro said he also wants to find a way to address a “rash of juvenile crimes,” especially those involving gangs.
“We see more youth gangs. The gangs are formed in places like Kalihi, Palolo and Waipahu, but they are committing crimes in Waikiki,” he said. “We also see youth coming into Waikiki, where they are involved in organized crime like prostitution.”
Rick Egged, Waikiki Improvement Association president, said that over the past year businesses have begun complaining about youth gangs committing property crimes.
First Circuit Judge Mark Browning said more youth services are needed since
60 percent of the kids who come into the judicial system have mental health issues, and 80 percent have substance abuse issues.
“If you expect HPD to solve the problem you have in this community, I can tell you that it won’t happen … not because they aren’t great officers … (but) the problem is that you have these kids who run all over the place and you don’t have a place to put them.”
Ballard said she has recommended that Honolulu police reinstate the Juvenile Services Division, which was disbanded in 2009. She also recommended that the district consider eliminating its 4 a.m. cabaret liquor license since over-consumption of alcohol fuels perpetrators and makes potential victims more vulnerable.
Other speakers, like Colette Kajiwara of Storefront School and Debbie Spencer Chun of Adult Friends for Youth, recommended increasing nonprofit services to address youth needs.
Decreasing crimes related to homelessness also was a hot topic. Ozawa recommended that the city work with business to modify building and landscape designs that allow people to loiter in public spaces. Hannemann wants to continue relocating homeless people to the mainland and advocates partnering with law enforcement to support anti-drug weed-and-seed operations.
Jerry Dolak, president of the Hawaii Hotel Visitor Industry Security Association, said members want more HPD foot patrols and better security cameras. They also are encouraging more hotels to ban offenders and more stores and restaurants to prosecute them.
Acting HPD Capt. Eric
Yosemori said police want the community to be more diligent about reporting crimes in general. District crime may be undercounted since tourists are sometimes reluctant to file reports, and residents and businesses don’t always want to serve as witnesses.
“If you see something, say something,” Yosemori said.
Kaneshiro said it’s important for businesses to report property crimes, even when they are petty misdemeanors. Under the habitual property crime law, Kaneshiro said offenders who have three or more petty misdemeanors on their record can be charged with a felony on the fourth instance.