Off the Beaten Path

May 1, 2013 | By Allison Schaefers

Melody Young loves to sit on her lanai and look at lush taro that thrives in Kuhio Mini Park, which is surrounded by a colorful hand-painted mural.

“It’s so beautiful,” Young says. “It’s a real source of community pride.”

On any given day, I can see Waikiki residents and visitors enjoying this urban oasis. It’s hard to believe that less than a year ago, the park was so blighted that Young never

used her lanai or ventured into the park, which had been overtaken by drug dealers, homeless people and criminals. Nearby businesses, such as the Hilton Waikiki Beach on Kuhio, were concerned with its condition, too.

The once-derelict park has come full-circle thanks to support from community residents, nearby businesses, and Honolulu Police Department officers assigned to the nearby Waikiki police substation, which has been on Kuhio beach since the mid 1980s.

“I made lots of police calls for service,” Young says.

Amazingly Young’s complaints stood out among the 14,321 calls for service that were handled by Waikiki police last year. The department’s community policing team quickly organized a park turnaround.

Waikiki Major Cary Okimoto, who was only 26 when he did his first stint in Waikiki, says he remembers that the substation opened in the mid 1980s after the community lobbied for a 24/7 police presence. While it might seem unusual to some that a roughly two-mile neighborhood needs its own police station, Okimoto says Waikiki is unique because of the mix of residents, tourists, business people and criminals that it attracts.

“From a policing standpoint, I feel that people who commit crimes are always going to go to where they think the payoffs are the biggest,” he says. “When you have tourists who don’t know their way around or don’t speak the language, they can more easily fall victim.”

Waikiki is authorized 12 beat officers, a bike detail, and a crime reduction unit made up of plainclothes officers, Okimoto says. In the past several decades, Okimoto says Waikiki community policing has evolved from getting out and talking with shop owners and residents to actually working with the community to get stuff done, he says.

“Community policing is a different philosophy. Instead of arresting and giving everybody citations, we work on nipping problems in the bud,” says John DeMello, one of the HPD community policing officers who worked with the community to transform Kuhio Mini Park.

Since the community-wide effort, the park has become a place where people can safely gather, DeMello says. Waikiki now has one neighborhood patrol and three neighborhood watches, which help keep the district safe for residents and visitors, DeMello says.

“If someone sneezes in the park, I hear about it,” he says.

Young says she’s grateful to have a police station in Waikiki and that the park is an example of how a community can work with their neighborhood police to make a difference.

“Instead of complaining, get involved and never give up,” she says. “Things can change.”

I agree because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.