Steps taken to reduce crime in Waikiki, Chinatown, but glaring disparity remains

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Waikiki and Chinatown are neighborhoods that serve very different purposes and attract different crowds.

But they share one dubious distinction: both are neighborhoods struggling with crime.

City officials and community leaders are taking steps to make both safer, but it isn’t easy.

Last month, a Kaneohe-based Marine was stabbed to death on a busy Waikiki street. A 16-year-old boy was charged with his murder.

In Chinatown, crime, drugs, and other illicit activities have long been associated with a location that owns a special place in Hawaii’s history.

“It’s the oldest Chinatown in the USA. Since we became a territory, it became the oldest Chinatown,” said Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business and Community Association, “but I think we need a concerted effort by city council, historic foundation, everybody, to preserve our Chinatown, otherwise we lose all of this ambiance, the culture, the history.”

Something else the two areas share are security cameras provided by the city and operated by the Honolulu Police Department.

But that’s where the similarities stop.

In Waikiki, there are a total of 10 city-operated security cameras. As of today (Tuesday, Nov. 7), the city says all 10 are working and recording 24/7, and upgrades are in the process of being implemented.

“The upgrades would include a better resolution, so for further refinement of being able to see when things are happening out there in the district,” said Jennifer Nakayama, president of the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association.

In 2015, the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, a non-profit organization, gave the city $15,000 to pay for upgrades to the camera system. That money was raised by those who have a direct interest in Waikiki’s success.

“The Waikiki Business Improvement District is made up of businesses throughout here that are not only the hotels, but retail, restaurants, a lot of tenants and property owners that have a common purpose of doing better for Waikiki,” said Nakayama.

The association also provides funding for “Aloha Ambassadors,” some of whom provide extra sets of eyes for police by monitoring the cameras regularly.

In contrast, Chinatown has 26 cameras positioned around the district, but as of today, only 15 are operational and unlike the cameras in Waikiki, they don’t record.

Shubert-Kwock says any upgrades will need to come from the city, because unlike in Waikiki, Chinatown businesses don’t have the money to foot the bill.

“It would be good to put the money into equipment and if the city can allocate the money for this through the police department, I think it’ll be very good not just for our neighborhood, but for other neighborhoods too,” she said.

Although Shubert-Kwock says Chinatown crime is declining, she’d like to see at least six additional cameras and more boots on the ground.

“We need to really take care of the image that we are not safe. We need to get rid of the image that people don’t care. People do care. But we just need the manpower, the willpower, and the money to make it right,” she said. “I really hope that the police department can put a full-time officer around the clock on our cameras, because the cameras do the work of many, many officers. And I think it will also provide evidence and lead to quick action by our patrol officers. Once they see something happening on the camera, they can radio, and we can really reduce crime.”

So how much will it cost to get the Chinatown cameras upgraded and is that on the city’s to do list?

A spokesman says while they don’t have an exact cost, the price will be comparable to the new security cameras the city installed earlier this year at two Ala Moana Regional Park comfort stations. They cost $1,600, including data storage.

He also said the city is committed to bringing all 26 Chinatown cameras back online, although there is no firm completion date as of right now.

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