Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Pearl City sees
signs of a thief

Residents say a serial banner
bandit has been ripping down
signs for more than a year

By Pat Omandam

Pearl City residents say something needs to be done about a serial sign-stealer who has frustrated community groups, churches, the neighborhood board and political candidates for at least a year.

Under the cover of darkness, they say, one or more people regularly skulk the area to remove banners and signs placed on private property facing major roadways.

Many are simply cut or ripped down, and the banner bandits have been known to return with wire cutters the next night for signs secured with steel cables.

"He will go to extremes to take the signs down," said Charles Aono, a Pearl City resident and candidate for the state House who has had 36 campaign signs stolen since May.

"He operates mostly between 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., because at 11:30 at night while I'm going home, I see my signs," Aono said.

"Six o'clock in the morning, when I'm going to sign-wave, it's gone. Somewhere in between, the signs are being taken down. He is persistent."

The latest victim was state Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), who had eight re-election signs worth $2,000 stolen this past weekend at locations near Waimano Home Road and Moanalua Road.

Kawamoto is now offering a reward of $1,000 for the apprehension and conviction of the thief or thieves.

"I don't know if these people realize that they can be charged with a Class C felony if caught and convicted," Kawamoto said yesterday.

"So I just want to let people know that those signs are expensive ... and serve a purpose in that it shows who's running for office," he said.

State law says political signs can be posted no earlier than 45 days before the election and must be taken down no longer than 10 days after the election.

The state primary election is Sept. 21, meaning the political signs should be posted no sooner than Aug. 6.

In response, Kawamoto said that law applies only to signs posted on public property. Kawamoto said his signs were on private properties, for which he had the owners' permission to post them.

Albert Fukushima, chairman of the Pearl City Neighborhood Board, said the thefts have been a chronic problem for about a year. All types of signs have been stolen from fences and yards, including those announcing church bazaars, community events, school registration, neighborhood board elections, baseball registration, ballroom dancing and political candidates.

Several banners touting the city's Sunset on the Beach in Pearl City last month were also stolen.

The key areas of theft are along Waimano Home Road/Moanalua Road and at Pacheco Park along Kamehameha Highway.

"I think it's getting out of hand already," Fukushima said.

"If people are just stealing signs, I think those organizations that normally put up signs are going to get kind of apprehensive now that the publicity is going to come out that there is a so-called serial sign-stealer."

Police reports have been filed, but Fukushima said police have told the neighborhood board that it is not a high priority for the area. Fukushima hopes the thefts of the senator's signs may prompt more action from them.

Aono said he has about 230 signs placed on private property in the neighborhood after permission was given by residents. If one is stolen, he will wait a while before replacing it.

The first-time legislative candidate, who serves on the board of the Pearl City Community Association, says he does not have time to focus on the thefts and considers it part of his campaign for elected office.

"So this is somebody who is pathological and sick, and I guess that's the price I have to pay for running for office," he said.

Fukushima added the suspects may mistakenly believe they have a right to remove signs from public view, even if they are hung or posted on private property.

Meanwhile, Kawamoto, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, does not believe the thefts of his banners are political retaliation to the state Legislature's repeal of the traffic camera speeding-enforcement program this past session.

Residents in this district supported the program because it increased traffic safety, and were not happy when lawmakers repealed the program, he said.

"It could be one of those people. I don't know," Kawamoto said. "I just hope it's not that."

Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Antone
contributed to this report.

E-mail to City Desk


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