Jan. 15—A rash of crimes since the tourist district reopened last year after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the prosecutor’s office to begin working in partnership with the Honolulu Police Department and community groups to establish Safe and Sound strategy.
Safe and Sound Waikiki has referred 456 arrests to city prosecutors in its first four months—progress that has been overshadowed by a recent series of violent crimes.
The overwhelming majority of those arrests have involved what Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm refers to as “quality of life ” crimes such as harassment, public intoxication and urinating in public. They include 372 referrals for misdemeanor crimes, 52 domestic violence misdemeanor arrests and 32 felony arrests.
Overall, Alm said, Waikiki had significantly more arrests over a shorter period than Chinatown, where Weed and Seed, a similar cooperative law enforcement and judicial strategy, netted 575 police referrals over a 16-month period.
The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney’s charging criteria for Weed and Seed Chinatown and Safe and Sound Waikiki “is essentially the same, ” he explained. “We want to hold as many criminals accountable for their criminal behavior. However, Waikiki does have more people and thus more crimes.”
A rash of crimes since the tourist district reopened last year after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the prosecutor’s office to begin working in partnership with the Honolulu Police Department and community groups to establish Safe and Sound strategy, which depends on grassroots input from residents, businesses and community groups regarding crime issues as well as what community activities and social services are needed.
The city has invested $100, 000 in the program, which has been matched with another $100, 000 from the Kosasa Foundation to fund any related social services.
“People feel less safe now, ” Alm said. “I think part of that was that crime was down like 30 % during the pandemic. The numbers are kind of getting back to pre-pandemic, so there’s definitely been an upswing in crime.”—RELATED :
The Waikiki police district, 1.5 square miles bordered by the Ala Wai Canal, Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean, is HPD’s smallest district, said officer Ryan Yamamoto, who led a community policing walk through the neighborhood Thursday.
He said the neighborhood’s density and unique mix of visitors, residents and workers calls for an expanded police presence, which includes the Waikiki Police Substation on Kalakaua Avenue fronting Waikiki Beach, HPD’s community policing efforts, and more recently the Safe and Sound Waikiki strategy, which started in early September.
Progress has been made since the program’s start, but the recent violence had residents at Tuesday’s Waikiki Neighborhood Board meeting concerned enough to discuss calling in the National Guard to supplement HPD’s labor shortage.
“We are obviously concerned about violent crime when it happens anywhere on the island of Oahu, ” said Scott Humber, spokesperson for Mayor Rick Blangiardi. “Mayor has the utmost confidence in Police Chief (Arthur ‘Joe’) Logan and the men and women of the Honolulu Police Department and their ability to handle the situation. Honolulu remains one of the safest big cities in the country.”
While Chinatown has had more felony arrests than Waikiki, Alm said the volume of misdemeanor arrests in Waikiki will make a difference for the community.
“If you don’t have a consequence for bad behavior, you have more bad behavior, ” he said. “Which is one of the reasons that Weed and Seed, and now Safe and Sound Waikiki, is effective. This is a long-term commitment, it’s month after month, year after year. I think it’s already getting better.”
WAIKIKI RESIDENT John Deutzman, who tracks crime in his neighborhood and accompanied HPD on its Thursday community policing walk, describes misdemeanor crimes as “death by one thousand cuts ” in his neighborhood, where he said 107 people were arrested more than once in 2022.
“Overall, Safe and Sound has turned up the heat. It was on low and it’s now on medium. Now, it needs to go to high, ” Deutzman said.
HPD Maj. Randy Platt said among the victories of Safe and Sound Waikiki is that most cases are getting higher bail amounts, with bail for suspects in petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor cases set at $1, 000 per offense and $11, 000 for felonies.
“Bail has been set at $75, 000 for several drug cases, ” Platt said.
He said nearly all Safe and Sound’s misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor cases were charged outright, including drug cases. Property crime suspects arrested under Safe and Sound can be charged immediately instead of being released “pending investigation, ” which has been a past challenge, according to Platt.
“We do see many of the individuals return to Waikiki, especially those without local addresses, ” he said. “It’s common for them to commit the same types of offenses, such as harassment, trespassing, shoplifting and illegal camping.”
Platt said he hoped to see courts issue more geographic restrictions—a condition of probation that restricts those who have committed crimes in Waikiki from returning to the district for a period of time.
Alm said prosecutors have asked for geographic restrictions in about 136 of the Safe and Sound arrests in Waikiki, and courts have approved about 25 of them.
Deutzman said a current weakness is that many of those on geographic restrictions have ignored the ban and returned to Waikiki.
“This whole thing was sold in the beginning as these guys on probation get geographic stay-aways and will be arrested on the spot if they return. That’s not necessarily true, ” he said.
Platt said police must document the geographic violation and notify the prosecuting attorney’s office. A prosecutor will then try to get a judge to issue a warrant for violating the court order, he said.
“We are hoping that this process can be streamlined, ” Platt said. “We also would like to see longer sentences for probation revocation when the (geographic restriction ) is connected to a criminal case.”
WHILE THE first phase of Safe and Sound Waikiki has emphasized law enforcement, the second phase will step up the community response. There are plans to hire a Safe and Sound coordinator, expand security cameras and improve lighting in the area, augment social services and continue advocating for laws that bring balance to the bustling district.
Alm and Platt said they planned to work with the Waikiki community this year to come up with an alternative to Bill 43, which would have limited amplified sound in Waikiki. The measure was supported by the Waikiki Neighborhood Board but vetoed by Blangiardi as unenforceable.
At the Safe and Sound Waikiki kickoff news conference last year, which was held at Pavilion 4 at Kuhio Beach, Blangiardi pledged to clean up the surrounding area. Since then, the city reached an agreement with the Biki bikeshare system to set up operations in the former crime hot spot. The city also removed a graffiti-covered pay phone, a broken water fountain and damaged fencing, and overhauled the landscaping and irrigation system next to Pavilion 4.
Jennifer Nakayama, who had been chair of the community steering committee for Safe and Sound Waikiki but is leaving her job as president of the Waikiki Business Improvement District this month for a new position on the mainland, said the second part of the program is focused on community outreach and coordination.
“We are looking for the connection to the pieces that will help cut off the proverbial pipeline to criminal activity, ” Nakayama said. “We are looking at those who have gone through incarceration or homelessness and are looking for a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, and to reinsert themselves back into the job market or housing.”
Rick Egged, president of the separate Waikiki Improvement Association, and Dave Willard, WBID vice president and interim executive director, are moving into the role of co-chairs of Safe and Sound Waikiki. They said Nakayama’s departure will delay the hiring of a Safe and Sound coordinator but they expect to see progress by summer.
In the meantime, Willard will focus on linking the social services that are already in Waikiki with Safe and Sound, including second-chance employment programs, organizations that provide homeless services, as well as those such as Adult Friends for Youth that provide services to at-risk youth.
“I don’t know that we really want to create new organizations, but we’d sure like to network within the existing organizations, ” he said.
Egged said he wants to see more security cameras put up in Waikiki and better lighting. “Safe and Sound is work-in-progress and while we’ve made some gains, there is much work still to do, ” he said.
Humber said that in 2022 there were 33 cameras online in Waikiki and nine are currently offline. He said the city departments of Transportation Services and Information Technology plan to resolve the camera issues within the next few months.