For the first time in five years, the overall cost to repair vandalism in the city’s 299 parks has declined as city officials find ways to deter unwanted, and sometimes illegal, activity often blamed on homeless encampments.
From July 2018 through June 30, vandalism repairs cost the city $223,000, a nearly 5% decrease from the previous fiscal year when vandalism repairs cost the city $234,000.
It was the first decline since the city began tracking the cost of vandalism in 2014.
City officials researched the expense at the request of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu told the Star-Advertiser that HPD could not immediately research all police calls and criminal citations and arrests for city parks receiving increased security without incurring additional expenses.
“All of the vandalism, public safety of our parks, has become an issue when we notice that especially certain parks seem to attract more homeless encampments,” said Georgette Deemer, the city’s deputy managing director. “It was starting to get costly for taxpayers.”
The city is addressing park vandalism and safety on multiple fronts:
>> On Monday, four new city parks are scheduled to have their bathroom gates locked at night when the parks are officially closed, bringing the total number of parks with lockable bathrooms to 62. The new parks added to the list are Moiliili Neighborhood Park, Kamehameha Neighborhood Park, Moanalua Valley Neighborhood Park and Kunia Neighborhood Park.
The overall cost to lock bathrooms at the 62 parks is expected to cost $338,000 a year, or $15 a park per day, according to parks spokesman Nathan Serota.
The program began with 25 parks in urban Honolulu as a pilot project in April 2018 and then expanded around the island.
>> In November 2018, the city hired Hawaii Protective Association at an annual cost of $44,000 to send pairs of unarmed private security guards to rotate among nine city parks around the clock. The patrols were hired following more than 600 acts of vandalism to city parks in the previous three years. The parks were selected based on the volume of complaints, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said at the time.
>> Park rangers are now assigned to Ala Moana Regional Park, Kapiolani Park and Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Rangers are also planned for Kakaako parks where jurisdiction is expected to be transferred to the city from the Hawaii Community Development Authority.
>> Although not directly related to park safety, the city added 40 more surveillance cameras in Waikiki in February to the 10 that were already installed primarily along Kalakaua Avenue. The cameras were provided through a $300,000 grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and $75,000 from the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association.
>> The city continues to encourage organizations to regularly use their local parks to keep them “activated” and deter others from illegal and unwanted park activity.
“Activation of the parks is really important,” said Michele Nekota, director of the city Department of Parks and Recreation. “The community has a pride and ownership of their parks. More people there mean more eyes and ears.”
“More positive events” deter vandalism and other illegal activity in city parks and are believed to discourage some potential criminals from even entering parks, Nekota said.
“They don’t want to be monitored or watched,” she said.
City spokesman Andrew Pereira encouraged anyone interested in organizing events at a city park to talk with park officials about obtaining a permit.
The city’s parks department, Pereira said, “is ready and willing to work with them on a possible permit.”
In a written statement, Caldwell said: “From the very beginning our parks have been a priority for this administration, and while the ultimate solution is to foster greater respect for our public areas, these security programs at select parks are working. Whether it’s park rangers, security cameras, locking our parks or having private security guards conduct patrols, these new tools have shown positive results and I’m happy our program is expanding with partnership and support from the City Council and from the state through the Hawaii Tourism Authority.”
Nekota called the lower costs to repair vandalized city parks “good news.”
All of the approaches — locking 62 park bathrooms at night, round-the-clock private patrols for nine city parks, the presence of park rangers at three parks, and more security cameras in Waikiki — collectively mean “a benefit and a deterrence to vandalism and graffiti,” Nekota said. “It’s all helping.”