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HPD wants to use overt video monitoring at popular sites

HONOLULU — The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) is considering using video cameras mounted on at least four mobile security trailers to avert auto burglaries, thefts, vandalism and other crimes at popular scenic points in East O‘ahu.

As part of a $64,000 pilot project as described under Resolution 64, HPD could roll these mobile video platforms — replete with flashing blue lights and possibly audio speakers — to parking lots close to the Makapuu Point Lighthouse lookout, Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline trails, Halona Blowhole lookout and Lanai lookout, near the Koko Head Shooting Complex.

The lookout sites are commonly visited by tourists and are highly prone to property crimes, according to HPD Maj. Brian Lynch.

“It’s out on the cliff edges, out there in Hawai‘i Kai, where we’re having a huge problem with car break-ins,” Lynch told the Council’s Committee on Public Safety on Thursday. “The majority of the victims for these crimes are tourists.”

According to Resolution 64, “tourists are known to leave cameras, sunglasses, wallets, purses and other valuables in their vehicles while visiting the scenic points, making the vehicles susceptible to unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle violations (i.e. break-ins), thefts, and subsequent financial fraud and other related crimes.”

Although auto burglaries are seasonal — with more incidents occurring during the summer as visitors arrive to the island — on average, HPD receives about 50 car break-in reports monthly, he said.

But as far as HPD’s sought-after camera technology to catch thieves or avert crimes, Lynch said it’s not anything new.

“It’s the same as being used in Chinatown and in Waikiki,” he added.

Still, East O‘ahu’s surveillance cameras will be a bit different.

Instead of being attached to street lights or poles at fixed locations in urban Honolulu, HPD wants to lease portable trailers that will feature cameras atop a mastlike pole.

“These cameras are the things you kind of see in Home Depot or Lowe’s parking lot or even Longs Moiliili; there’s the white trailer with the blue light on it, and it’s got the tall mast,” Lynch told the committee.

“These cameras are deterrents, in the sense that when the bad guys know when someone is watching, they change their behaviors or they go somewhere else.”

The cost to the city will be about $3,000 a month per security trailer, according to Lynch.

Video footage gleaned from these mobile cameras will be used to identify suspects.

“If we can identify them, then we can go after them and prosecute them for the crime that they committed in front of the camera,” he said.

Lynch said this program could be applied to other spots around O‘ahu.

“Within the rules and the laws, they can be moved into other areas, and they can assist us in the same way the private sector uses them to protect their assets,” he said.

Committee Chair Val Okimoto asked whether someone could steal these largely unattended mobile trailers.

“Well, they secure them,” Lynch replied, adding, “What we used to do is take the tires off the trailer and put them on blocks. That way they can’t take them away.”

He noted the project’s main benefit is that HPD will not be using city-owned equipment.

“We’re going to lease them,” Lynch said. “And so, if they get damaged or stolen or whatever … it’s on the leasing company. … If it’s broken or damaged, they pull the old one out, and they bring us a new one that’s ready to go. So we don’t have to deal with the maintenance or the fixing or the repairing or any of that.”

And he stressed it would be premature for the city to own this equipment.

“There’s a huge avenue of infrastructure required to have these cameras,” he said, noting, “Footage is recorded and remotely monitored.”

Okimoto also asked how the video footage would be reviewed, by HPD or others.

“Part of the lease is actually somebody sitting there watching it, not one of us,” Lynch said, alluding to HPD’s ongoing staffing shortage of more than 400 officers.

“It’s somebody with this leasing company that we would be dealing with. That’s another attractive grab for us in the sense that it’s cheaper to have this person do that than it would (be for the police). And then there’s rules about us watching and stuff like that.”

Lynch noted recorded video footage would only cover daylight hours.

“Because at night these (crimes) don’t happen,” he added.

Before the meeting, City Council Chair Tommy Waters — whose council district covers East Honolulu — told the Honolulu Star-­Advertiser that HPD has allocated $64,000 toward this pilot project for fiscal year 2025 only, which begins July 1.

“Public safety remains our top priority. In 2023 alone, 225 vehicle break-ins were reported at East Honolulu lookouts,” Waters said via email. “The proposed resolution aims to tackle the disturbing criminal activities at East Honolulu’s scenic lookouts.”

But HPD’s proposed surveillance program has drawn mixed reactions.

Via written testimony, East O‘ahu resident Maddy Walsh said she backed the idea “because I believe it will enhance my own safety and peace of mind, deter theft and other crimes in these areas, and act as an efficient use of Hawaii’s law enforcement resources.”

“While the language of this resolution seems to be targeted more towards helping tourists, I think this resolution will have an overall positive impact on the safety and peace of mind of locals like me who leave their cars unattended to hike and visit these East O‘ahu sites,” she said.

O‘ahu resident Natalie Iwasa said she opposed the project.

“Concerns I have with overt government surveillance include the impact it has on people, e.g., ‘the chilling effect’ of public surveillance,” Iwasa wrote in her public testimony. “It can cause people to decide against exercising their basic rights, like freedom of speech or peaceful protest.”

In spite of privacy concerns, Waters said the project has received other levels of support.

“Within the East O‘ahu communities, my understanding is that the Hawai‘i Kai Neighborhood Board and community members support the pilot project,” he said. “Additionally, the Waialae-Kai Neighborhood Board requested overt video monitoring for the Diamond Head Lookouts at the April 18, 2024, meeting.”

Although Resolution 64 was heard, Okimoto postponed the item. After the meeting, Jame Schaedel, Okimoto’s policy adviser, said the resolution was deferred for amendments and will return May 23 for further review.

Meanwhile, HPD did not immediately respond to questions over which company will contract with the city to lease these security trailers.
Source: The Garden Island

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