East Hawaii News

200 surveillance cameras to be installed in downtown Pāhoa

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There will be 200 cameras focused on keeping a watchful eye over Pāhoa town to enhance public safety and help tackle several pressing issues faced by the community in the heart of Puna on the Big Island.

The Hawai‘i County Council on Wednesday voted 9-0 to adopt Resolution 487, which grants $65,000 in county geothermal relocation and community benefits funds through the Hawai‘i County Planning Department to the Pāhoa Lava Zone Museum for the purchase, installation and maintenance of 25 surveillance systems, each consisting of 8 cameras, in downtown Pāhoa.

Downtown Pāhoa in July 2023. (Big Island Now file photo)

Introduced by Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, the measure and new surveillance system are direct results of the inaugural Crime Prevention Summit hosted in August 2023 by the Pāhoa Public Safety Partnership. The event was a collaboration between Kierkiewicz’s office and the Mainstreet Pāhoa Association.

More than 60 community members from local and state government, businesses, nonprofit organizations and others came together to discuss public safety issues challenging the Puna town and develop strategies to address them.

They were focused on trespassing enforcement, built environment improvements, youth engagement and mental health support.

“The camera system checks all of those boxes, and the businesses have been asking for this since 2018 after the eruption,” said Amedeo Markoff in testimony to the council Wednesday, referencing the lower East Rift Zone eruption of Kīlauea volcano 6 years ago.


Markoff is president of the Mainstreet Pāhoa Association and executive director of the Pāhoa Lava Zone Museum. He has lived in Puna for 35 years.

Cameras will cover a continuous corridor of key areas in downtown Pāhoa including businesses, sidewalks and public spaces as well as other county assets. They will be mounted throughout about half a mile from Post Office Road to Paul’s Repair Services along the community’s main street of Kea‘au-Pāhoa Road.

Each can store footage for about 2 months. The cameras are expected to be operational for at least 5 years.

Signs will be posted to alert the public that the area is under surveillance.

They are passive surveillance systems, meaning no one is watching the camera feeds at all times. It’s similar to surveillance at some convenience and department stores.


Access to the recordings will be available to businesses and relevant county departments and officials such as the Hawai’i Police Department and Hawai’i Fire Department, county prosecutors, Mass Transit, Parks and Recreation and Public Works.

Not only will the cameras monitor activities in Pāhoa, but the video they record could aid police and prosecutors with evidence in the event a crime is committed.

The information they collect can also be used by county and state agencies to determine what kinds of resources the community needs.

Hawai‘i County Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz

Kierkiewicz thinks data the cameras collect will aid the community in securing even more resources to tackle urgent issues and needs such as homelessness, mental health support, medical assistance, housing, social services and the list goes on.

Furthermore, passive surveillance infrastructure is a demonstrated deterrent to criminal activity and contributes to the overall safety and security of a community.


Markoff told the council during a Finance Committee meeting in April that four camera systems purchased and installed about 4 years ago with $5,000 provided by Kierkiewicz and Puna Councilman Matt Kāneali‘i-Kleinfelder and additional community donations have made a difference.

Crime has decreased in the specific areas with existing surveillance. However, some have had to be replaced after incidents where people vandalized or even destroyed them for nefarious reasons, which has been costly.

Kierkiewicz and others involved with the new surveillance project are excited about the investment being made in downtown Pāhoa, especially for the local businesses. She said they are the heartbeat of the community and want to ensure innovative solutions are found to support them.

Pāhoa has been through a lot in the past 6 years. The community had its challenges before 2018, but then the eruption happened. Not only did the lava flow impact the community’s economy, but it also exacerbated existing issues with mental health, homelessness and crime.

The COVID-19 pandemic stymied Pāhoa’s recovery from the 2018 eruption and further complicated those problems.

Impacts from the eruption and pandemic continue.

“We like to say that we’re in recovery in Pāhoa,” Markoff told the council Wednesday, “but we are still in crisis in certain ways.”

Kevin Kushel, vice president of the Mainstreet Pāhoa Association, said in testimony during Wednesday’s meeting that it’s imperative the surveillance system be installed.

He volunteers every Sunday at the Pāhoa Lava Zone Museum, where he gets a bird’s-eye view of the activities that go on in downtown Pāhoa. Kushel said there are all kinds of bad actors, nefarious characters, people in need and others just hanging around.

He’s a firm believer that cameras are a deterrent to bad behavior.

A man rides through downtown Pāhoa in July 2023. (Big Island Now file photo)

Businesses also are struggling in the community with an estimated population of between 1,350 and 1,450, depending on the source. The last official population count was the 2020 U.S. Census, which showed a total population of 924.

“We had a terrible blow from the inundation in ’18, and any kind of help we can get for security and safety would be greatly appreciated,” Kushel said.

Among other business Wednesday, the council:

  • Adopted Resolution 486 by a vote of 8-0, with Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy absent at the time of the vote. The measure allows Hawai‘i County to enter into negotiations for a conservation easement for 27.38 acres south of the Waikōloa resort area known as ‘Anaeho‘omalu Kapalaoa in the ahupua‘a (land division) of Pu‘uanahulu. The land was listed as priority No. 1 in the 2023 annual report of the Hawai‘i County Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission.
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at nathan@bigislandnow.com
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