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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 20, 2004

Crime high at Kalama Park

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

KIHEI, Maui — It seems that even the police aren't safe at Kalama Park.

Last month, a man taunted a group of off-duty police officers who were at one of the park's pavilions to celebrate a fellow officer's promotion. The intruder fired shots at the group, and a police officer fired back. The suspect was later arrested.

In January, the body of a man who had been stabbed was found at the park; last year, an arsonist burned the Kihei Little League concession stand. Assaults, drug dealing and other crimes are common.

Despite the trouble, the 36.5-acre park on the South Maui shoreline remains one of the island's most popular parks. It has beach access and a large playground. There are baseball, softball and Little League fields, basketball and tennis courts, an inline skating rink, a skate park, picnic areas and two pavilions.

The community and law enforcement officials are working together to curb crime at the park and reclaim the space for law-abiding citizens. A Kalama Park Action Team was formed recently and will hold a meeting from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kihei Community Center to discuss crime and safety issues.

The team is spearheaded by Deputy Prosecutor Jerrie Sheppard, who earlier this year became the county's first community prosecutor under a pilot effort similar to the community watch program intended to establish close ties between residents and law enforcement by stationing staff in the neighborhoods.

Police Lt. Hamilton Rodrigues, who is involved in the Kalama Park Action Team, said that ideas to improve safety at Kalama Park are being discussed, including clearing brush that limits visibility and increasing lighting.

The Kihei police office is near the park, but staffing is stretched thin in a community that is one of the state's fastest-growing regions and a center of tourism.

"We try to go in there (Kalama Park) as often as we can, but we can't be there all the time," Rodrigues said.

Joel Parker of the Maui Family YMCA, which operates the skate park at Kalama, reports repeated problems with vandalism, discarded needles and transients taking up residence under the skate park's ramps. The biggest problems are graffiti, broken bottles and damage to the ramps.

"The volunteers and staff who work there tell me every day they watch drug deals happen right in front of them," Parker said.

But Parker also noted there were lots of "positive and safe things" going on at Kalama Park. Since it is frequented by families and children, he would like to see some limits on alcohol and drug use at the park, perhaps similar to laws that put severe penalties on illegal activities near schools.

More patrols and community involvement also would help, he said.

For more information about the Kalama Park Action Team, call Sheppard at (808) 891-2348 or (808) 270-7765.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.