Canoe Clubs Express Concerns of Criminal Activity Around Halau

January 18, 2020, 6:38 AM HST (Updated January 18, 2020, 6:51 AM)
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The Hawai‘i County Police Commission has committed to solving safety concerns plaguing canoe clubs.

With the displacement of homeless from various parks islandwide, members of the Moku O Hawai‘i Outrigger Canoe Association believe these individuals are now congregating around their hālau resulting in increased drug activity, graffiti and vandalism. Members of the association and Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy brought the issue before the commission Friday at the Wes Hawai‘i Civic Center, speaking specifically of incidents occurring at Hilo’s Bay Front and the Kailua Pier.

Commission Chairman John Bertsch acknowledged that this is a huge problem.

“This is the first time in my 13 years on the commission that we’ve had a group represented basically from all around the whole island, including the council,” he said.

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During the meeting, canoe club leaders expressed issues of safety, especially for their young paddlers.

“In the last several months, this activity has increased dramatically down at Bay Front,” said the association vice president Doug Bumatay. “It’s always been there kind of in the shadows, but now it’s right up front.”

Bumatay, who paddles with Paddlers of Laka, went on to explain sometimes there are dozen people in the bathrooms, right at the entrance doing “what we all know they doing.” And it’s intimidating for the kids.

“It’s the high school season and they don’t even want to go in to use restrooms, they don’t want to change, it’s terrible,” he said.

Bumatay said they’ve called police a few times. Graffiti has increased in the bathrooms and some of the boulders that are around the (Bay Front) park — vandalism to the hālau have also increased.

“And it’s our fault because a lot of times we don’t call it in to report it,” he added.

The issues are not isolated to Hilo, as clubs in Kona have also been experiencing similar issues with the homeless community. Mike Atwood, athletic director for Kai Opua at the Kailua Pier, explained to commissioners they are encountering the same illegal activities at the pier.

“What’s happening now when the bathrooms are closed, the canoes we store by the pier, the homeless are starting to use our canoes as their faculties and it creates a health issue,” Atwood said. “That’s not one of the things we can make a call. We don’t see it, but we see it afterwards, or smell it afterwards.”

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In previous discussions about this issue, Atwood said, there’s been confusion on who can address the problems since the pier is state property. He expressed his appreciation that he knows he can call police.

Lee Loy told the commission that community partners and county have got to work smarter, not harder.

“We need all community partners at the table and shed some light on what’s happening in our communities as it’s an islandwide issue,” the councilwoman said.

After hearing comments from the association members, Bertsch said, they need to wrap their hands around this issue and pledged the commission’s assistance to help in anyway they could.

“This isn’t just a police department issue, and I think you recognize that,” the chairman said. “This is a community effort that’s going to require the concerted efforts of the council, the commission, the department and the canoe clubs all working in consort to try and remedy this problem.”

Bertsch asked that Lee Loy be part of the steering committee to bring involved parties to the discussion, including a member of the council, members of the police department from area 1 and 2, police commission, public works, parks and recreation and possibly someone from the mayor’s office.

After the meeting, Lee Loy said she appreciated the pledge from the commission as it places value on what the community is asking for.

Bumatay explained these problems at the hālau started getting bad two or three years ago. The drug activity ramped up after sweeps in area parks forced homeless groups to relocate.

“We got to start doing something,” he said.

Overall, Bumatay estimates the clubs have suffered $10-15,000 in damage. Thankfully, he added, there hasn’t been serious damage to the canoes.

Lee Loy said the bigger cost is the peace of mind.

“That’s priceless,” she said. “To think that your kids aren’t safe going to the bathroom or just witnessing drug activity, you can’t put a price tag on that — it’s just unacceptable.”

Police Chief Paul Ferreira is aware of the issue and they have done recent sweeps in the Bay Front area. However, he explained to the commission when homeless are moved out of one area they migrate to another spot.

“If we attack the halau and bathroom they (homeless) go back to the soccer field,” the Ferreira said.

On top of that, there is the mental health issue among the homeless.

“It’s not just a law enforcement and police issue,” he said. “We’re hoping we can find a solution through all the partners — it’s not going to happen over night.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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