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Tourists Spur Expansion of Surveillance Network in Oahu Parks

With more tourists in the region, Oneula is included in the list of 13 parks where the city of Kapolei and the Hawaii Tourism Authority will spend nearly $250,000 to install 192 security cameras by the end of the year.

(TNS) — Waikiki and Diamond Head were distant glimpses from the shores of Oneula Beach Park, where Sacramento, Calif., visitors Michel Filyau and Celine Yang were sitting on a recent Thursday.

The couple, who were staying in Kapolei, are part of the growing crop of intrepid visitors who venture outside of tourist districts. They used a map to find their way to Ewa Beach’s Oneula, once a primarily local beach.

“This was the closest beach to where we were staying,” Filyau said. “We have noticed a lot of homeless people around, but we have that in Sacramento, too. It really is a beautiful beach.”

With more tourists in the region, Oneula is included in the list of 13 parks where the city and Hawaii Tourism Authority will spend nearly $250,000 to install 192 security cameras by the start of next year. Multiple cameras also are slated to be placed in various location inside Foster Botanical Garden, Kuhio Beach Park, Ala Moana Regional Park, Kapiolani Regional Park, Hauula Beach Park, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Makapuu Beach Park, Makaha Beach Park, Kalama Beach Park, Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park and Waipio Soccer.

Scenic Oneula and nearby Ewa Beach development have brought more tourists. The neighborhood, however, is dealing with rising crime and the growing pains of gentrification in an area where homeless campers previously were tolerated.

Oneula has seen a relatively high level of crime, said Nathan Serota, a spokesman for the city Department of Parks and Recreation. Its comfort station and other facilities have been repeatedly vandalized, and recently there was a stabbing at the park.

Expanding the use of cameras in partnership with HTA is an extension of efforts to increase safety at city park facilities, Serota said. The city over the last five years has added dozens of surveillance cameras to deter illegal activity in a handful of parks, including Aala, Ala Moana, Sandy Beach, Kiaka Bay and Waialae, he said.

Reaction to the partnership has been mixed.

Expanding surveillance cameras in Waikiki was supported by police, members of the visitor industry and some neighborhood residents and businesses when Mayor Kirk Caldwell rolled out the concept in February as part of a Waikiki public safety package.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii is opposed to allowing the government to expand surveillance cameras in public places and said officials should have hosted public hearings before making the call in Waikiki and elsewhere.

“Generally, we think surveillance cameras invade our privacy, make us less free and don’t make us more safe,” said Joshua Wisch, ACLU of Hawaii executive director. “This is something that should have gone through the public hearings process. We want to make sure our privacy is balanced against the need to protect us.”

On the other hand, Jessica Lani Rich, president and CEO of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, is pleased that the use of surveillance cameras is expanding.

“When we have visitors that come here that basically save all year for their Hawaii vacation and something bad happens to them, it’s absolutely devastating,” she said. “If a criminal or a would-be criminal knows that there are cameras, hopefully they will be more reluctant to commit a crime. And if a crime does happen, cameras are useful for helping visitors get justice and perhaps to recover their belongings.”

Jerry Dolak, president of the Hawaii Hotel Visitor Industry Security Association, said hotels already are pretty well covered with cameras, but “we don’t want anything to happen to our visitors anywhere.”

Dolak said security cameras have become more important as the “entire island becomes a visitor destination.”

Oahu welcomed 5.93 million visitors in 2018, and the city said that “this level of enthusiasm for a vacation” is expected in the future “to increase or remain steady.”

While many of the visitors stayed in Waikiki, HTA statistics show that the number staying elsewhere has increased. In general, social media and online hosting sites have made tourists more intrepid.

Serota said the city doesn’t have statistics that directly correlate the increase in tourism to increased traffic at its parks, but noted that facilities have experienced steady increases in the number of visitors.

Chief Administrative Officer Keith Regan said the state agency worked collaboratively with city Department of Parks and Recreation Director Michele Nekota to identify parks frequented by visitors with the greatest need for cameras.

“These parks are considered as being particularly high-risk areas where cameras are currently lacking and the installation of these cameras would help improve security, ensure public safety and strengthen criminal deterrence,” Regan said.

HTA paid $300,000 for more technologically advanced Waikiki cameras, and this time around will provide $204,000 toward installation of the additional 192 cameras, which are expected to cost the city $38,800.

The new cameras won’t be monitored 24/7 like those used in Waikiki, but Serota said they can record and store video that can be remotely viewed.

Serota said the aim of the new surveillance cameras is “not to record crimes, but to deter them.”

The ACLU’s Wisch said it’s unclear whether surveillance cameras deter crime, and that the city needs to answer more questions about how they work and their effectiveness. Wisch said the city needs to prove that those monitoring the cameras are properly trained to protect privacy rights and prevent abuse of power. People also have a right to know what the city intends to do with the footage, Wisch said.

Even if the cameras work to deter crimes, Wisch fears that will push criminal activity into areas not blanketed by cameras.

Kit Grant, ALCU of Hawaii deputy director, said there are better options than cameras for improving public safety. “There are more proven techniques like increasing foot patrols and improving lighting than blanketing your spaces with cameras,” Grant said.

But Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said cameras are useful because they can capture footage of criminal acts, suspects and suspect vehicles.

Serota said cameras work. In fact, they’ve helped the city realize a 16% savings on in-house maintenance costs to address vandalism, which dipped from $234,000 in fiscal year 2018 to $196,500 in fiscal year 2019, he said.

“Having more eyes and ears on our public facilities is one way to improve quality, so getting positive activation of our parks is another great way of doing this,” he said. “It is more likely to get that positive activation if park users feel safe and secure while doing activities that are appropriate in our parks.”

©2019 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.