Increased police camera surveillance planned for Waikiki, Big Island
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
By Kevin Dayton
HILO, Hawai'i — Dozens of cameras will be installed over the next year in Waikiki and on the Big Island as part of a statewide effort to increase the use of video surveillance to reduce crimes against visitors.
The Hawai'i Tourism Authority tested the program on O'ahu in 2005 and 2006 by installing cameras at 'Ehukai Beach Park and the Pali Lookout, and found the cameras caused a "significant reduction" in vehicle break-ins.
The Big Island County Council voted 6-0 yesterday to authorize use of the cameras on that island with HTA covering the $500,000 cost.
The cameras on the Big Island will be intermittently monitored and will function as a crime deterrent and a way to gather evidence when crimes do occur.
Similar projects are being planned by county officials on Maui and Kaua'i, and Honolulu officials are planning to boost video surveillance in Waikiki, according to HTA strategic planner Momi Akimseu.
Ann Chung, executive director of the Office of Economic Development for Honolulu, declined to discuss specifics about the city's proposed agreement with HTA for the surveillance program because it has not yet been finalized.
A lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i questioned the cameras' effectiveness at preventing crimes and raised the issue of the loss of privacy.
"We should not give in to the impulse to blanket our public spaces and streets with government video surveillance, and turn our aloha state into a police state," said Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the ACLU of Hawai'i. "This technology changes the core experience of going out in public in Hawai'i because of its chilling effect on citizens, carries very real dangers of abuse, and would not significantly protect us against crime."
ACLU HAS CONCERNS
The ACLU has already raised concerns with the Honolulu City Council about the six cameras in the Waikiki program.
"Government surveillance promotes a false sense of security, and especially in difficult economic times diverts scarce taxpayer dollars away from proven measures like hiring more police officers, increasing community policing and foot patrols, and improved lighting in our neighborhoods," Temple said.
Big Island police Capt. Andrew Burian said he has not heard complaints about privacy from the public on the Big Island.
"There hasn't been a whole lot of discussion about that because of the fact that we have cameras at this point all around us," Burian said. "We're targeting public areas, areas that are open to the public, and our overriding concern is public safety."
Burian said his department and various Big Island communities are discussing likely locations for the cameras, including the Kailua, Kona, business district, 'Akaka Falls area and downtown Hilo.
Burian said police are also considering upgrading 16 cameras now used to monitor Pahoa Village, an area with increasing tourist traffic since the lava viewing area opened at Kalapana.
The existing Pahoa cameras were installed under the federal Weed & Seed community building and enforcement program, and have already been used to help with a number of prosecutions, Burian said. However, the existing Pahoa cameras are fixed, and police would like to be able to rotate the cameras for better surveillance.
The use of cameras in high-crime areas also was endorsed by security consulting firm Tourism & More, which HTA hired in 2007 to propose steps the state could take to improve visitor safety.
The one-year agreement between HTA and the Big Island requires that the cameras be installed and operating by June 30, 2009, although Burian said the county will try to have the cameras running sooner.
"We certainly need the help in Kailua, Kona," said councilwoman Brenda Ford, who represents West Hawai'i communities, including Keauhou and Kealakekua.
Councilman Bob Jacobson suggested the police use hidden cameras or video equipment that can be concealed.
"One of the problems is that people figure out right away where they are, and they move out of range," said Jacobson, who represents Upper Puna, Ka'u and South Kona.
Temple said the ACLU has been monitoring the growing use of cameras both in Waikiki and as part of the "van cam" speed enforcement program that caused a public uproar on O'ahu until state lawmakers repealed the law in 2002 that authorized the program.
'POTENTIAL FOR ABUSE'
One of the issues in the Waikiki program has been that the cameras have been monitored by private citizen volunteers instead of trained police officers, Temple said.
"The potential for abuse is pretty great with those sorts of programs," raising the possibility that civilian monitors might engage in activities such as profiling by watching certain types of people, or might engage in stalking-type activity with the help of the cameras, she said.
Akimseu said the HTA sought out partnerships with county officials because the counties know where the most serious problems are, and because the counties can gather input from the communities and businesses.
"It's going to be in public places, so it has not been a problem," she said of the privacy issue. "I know that when they're putting up the cameras, they had community meetings to ensure there was support in those areas if it was affecting them."
Akimseu said the proposals from the counties range from $200,000 to the $500,000 effort on the Big Island.
She declined to say exactly how much each county is seeking because the amounts may change as the other counties' agreements are finalized this month.
Reach Kevin Dayton at firstname.lastname@example.org.