Waikiki crime concerns a key focus of visitor public safety conference

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — As Hawaii works to welcome back international visitors in larger numbers, conversations like those taking place at Thursday’s Visitor Public Safety Conference are extremely important.

Community leaders, tourism organizations, and local law enforcement officials are working to make Waikiki safer.

Ahead of the conference at the Hawaii Convention Center, Hawaii News Now set out to find out how everyday residents and visitors feel when it comes to staying safe in one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

“It feels a little less safe, a little more aggression,” said Anne Vanheezik, who is visiting Waikiki from Holland.

“I think security is always good. I feel very safe here,” adds Wolfgang Danner, who is coming to Hawaii from Munich.

Anthony Aviles, who lives in Waikiki, added:

“I’m not nervous in general, but I see the strange crowd coming out at night and it gets kind of concerning for other people, especially people who travel here who don’t know any better.:

It is this group of people who are the focus of Thursday’s mission and the main discussion at the 2022 Visitor Public Safety Conference.

“It’s about proactively addressing issues and concerns that we have here in Waikiki. So today is all about mental illness, substance abuse and the much-anticipated safe and sound program,” said Mufi Hannemann, President and CEO of the Hawai’i Lodging & Tourism Association.

The “Safe and Sound” initiative, to which Hannemann alludes, started about two months ago.

It essentially allows the legal system to ban repeat offenders from Waikiki for six-month periods at a time. If they are seen again before this time is up, they may be arrested on the spot.

It’s a joint effort by HPD, the Judiciary and District Attorney Steve Alm.

“Things are looking a lot better, and that’s partly because HPD has been really active,” Alm said.

“They’ve made a few hundred arrests and we’re following people. When people go into stores and steal all the time, we charge them with a common property crime, which is a crime. Some of them have terrible drug and alcohol problems and we will try to get them treated.”

More importantly, the “Sound” portion of Safe and Sound could prove: What to do with the chronically homeless, mentally ill and chemically dependent people who call the streets of Waikiki home?

Jennifer Nakayama, president and CEO of the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, says there’s an all-too-important public-private partnership at play here.

The Kosasa Foundation has made a $100,000 charitable donation to the Waikiki Business Improvement District, which will be matched dollar for dollar by the city.

“Here we look at the softer side of outreach and what we can do to engage the community around at-risk youth or perhaps inspire a second chance employment program. For those who were previously imprisoned or maybe previously homeless but really want to re-enter society, this is an opportunity,” Nakayama said.

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