Tourists finding themselves on the wrong side of the law are crying foul on Hawaii’s park and trail trespassing rules.
Advocates say they’re keeping Waikiki clean and hikers safe.
What can be done to strike a balance?
Angry tourists wonder why they can’t stroll Waikiki beach parks by moonlight or take their selfies on often-traveled terrain, as laws against lingering and trespassing are being more stringently enforced.
Many tourists are getting slapped with costly violations that are at least petty misdemeanors on their records.
Many have called defense attorney Victor Bakke.
“In all of these cases, whether it’s trespassing in the park, trespassing at the stairs or a lookout, they’re all told the same thing. Plead guilty, pay money, but if you want to challenge it, you’re going to have to fly halfway around the world again,” said Bakke.
In the past couple of years, as the city cracked down on park loitering with nightly closures, a whopping 7,000 tickets have been issued to people in parks after hours and many of them are tourists.
The Honolulu prosecutor’s office says it gets several letters a week from out-of-state and foreign visitors who were ticketed. The office advises: Plead guilty or no contest by mail, or come back to town and go to trial. What they can’t do is ignore it, or risk a warrant out for their arrest.
That’s causing heartburn not only for tourists, but tourism marketers and the visitor industry.
“They want to be able to stroll at night so when they are made aware that we have certain rules, especially curfews, it sort of makes for an unpleasant situation at times because that’s not what they dreamed about,” said Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association president and CEO Mufi Hannemann.
“The reality of it is, these laws were made to keep the homeless people out of the parks at night, but to be fair, they have to keep everybody out,” said Bakke. “Really, the end result is you kick everybody out and you cite and bite the hand that feeds you with the tourists.”
The Waikiki community and visitor industry say the law is working well to keep the parks clear of homeless, but there’s still work to be done on education.
“We probably need to do a better job of letting them know, whether it’s from the hotels or signage and the like that you can’t do that,” explained Hannemann.
“It’s not just tourists. It’s locals too. It really is something that needs to be addressed,” Bakke said.
Meanwhile, authorities are now trying to handle situations delicately.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to — and I’ve made those calls — officers all the way up to the chief, they know the value of our visitor industry,” said Hannemann. “A lot of conversations are taking place, warnings are being issued, especially to the first-time person or visitor that’s trying to stroll along the beach at an inappropriate time. They’re given a warning.”
Are they finding some are being belligerent or pushing it a little bit?
“Yes, and I think that’s when some of the problems have occurred, when attitude sort of kicks in. So it works both ways,” said Hannemann.
That’s for the beach parks. Meanwhile in the danger zones on ridges and trails, there’s much less of a balancing act in play.
“Because there’s such a danger involved and there’s government cost involved in having to go in and rescue people and fine people, the prosecutors have now taken the policy that they will not plea bargain those cases and they’re demanding the maximum $1,000 fine,” said Bakke.
Always Investigating asked if this applied to more dangerous settings, ones that are more clearly off-limits.
“They’re clearly in violation. They’re taking their life into their own hands and there’s no excuse in those situations (like saying) they didn’t see a sign (or) they weren’t warned,” Hannemann said.