CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu Police Department Capt. Frank Fujii held a newspaper with peepholes as a joke yesterday during a press conference along Alapai Street outlining new pedestrian safety measures that will employ undercover police officers in busy areas. CLICK FOR LARGE
Crosswalk corps goes undercover
Undercover cops to patrol for street crossing violations
Police officers do undercover work as many different people. This time, they're going to be pedestrians.
Officers dressed as plainclothes citizens will be handing out tickets to jaywalkers across the city, police officials announced yesterday. Officers in unmarked cars also will keep an eye on motorists who disobey pedestrian and traffic laws.
This is the third phase in the Honolulu Police Department's aggressive pedestrian and driver safety campaign, which has ticketed more than 2,200 people since last month.
The Honolulu Police Department's pedestrian safety campaign is going undercover.
Plainclothes police officers will be patrolling streets in town, with a particular focus on downtown, to collar pedestrians crossing the street illegally or motorists violating crosswalk laws.
It is not because issuing tickets has not been effective, said campaign head Lt. Jerry Wojcik, of the traffic safety division. They have ticketed more than 2,200 pedestrians and drivers since last month.
"We are noticing a difference ... that people are paying attention," Wojcik said. "But we also notice people looking around, and when they don't see a policeman around, they just cross anywhere and disobey the law. We want these changes to be permanent."
Unmarked cars will be placed at intersections to go after motorists. Up to 50 police officers, most of them new to the force, will be involved.
Wojcik declined to say when they will start the phase, only saying "it could start as soon as 10 minutes from now."
"This won't be done in isolated areas, mostly downtown, Keeaumoku areas," Wojcik said. "And it won't be done at night."
Wojcik said police officers will be in more crowded areas so pedestrians do not feel threatened that they are being harassed by someone impersonating a law officer. The officers will carry their badges and be assigned to the downtown and Waikiki substations.
The campaign is a result of several pedestrian deaths occurring in succession since the start of the year. There have been 10 pedestrian deaths this year, already half of last year's total.
To 56-year-old pedestrian victim Rene Williams, "it's a beautiful idea."
Williams was hit in November 2005 while he was in a crosswalk on Atkinson Drive. Since then he has needed a cane because his leg is crooked. He still receives treatment for his leg, which is held together with plates.
The pain, coupled with the legal turmoil with the driver who hit him, has been an ongoing nightmare for the Mililani resident.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu police Lt. Jerry Wojcik held a press conference along Alapai Street yesterday to publicize the new pedestrian safety measures, which will employ undercover officers. CLICK FOR LARGE
"I'm very happy the Police Department is being aggressive in this," Williams said. "There have been more people getting hit these past few years. These jaywalkers and illegal drivers are wise, and they'll violate the law when they don't see a uniform."
But Honolulu defense attorney Earle Partington questions whether it is a good use of police officers.
"When's the last time you heard of a pedestrian being hit downtown?" he asked. "The problems are not in the major urban areas. How many people can speed with all the traffic down there?"
Wojcik said the in-town project is a start for the department and that other districts might implement their own undercover programs.
But Partington said he remains skeptical.
"Why are they putting all these policemen downtown?" he asked. "I don't think this is addressing the problem. Are the police doing something for show, or are they doing something for real?"
But police officials stressed the importance of deterring potential fatal accidents.
"How do you look at a family when their grandfather died, and what do you say, 'We weren't there. We were too busy looking for drugs'?" Wojcik said. "That's not the answer."
SAFETY FIRST ... AND SECOND AND THIRD
The start of the new year brought several pedestrian deaths. Most of the victims were seniors. Since February the Honolulu Police Department has run a safety campaign, which has had three phases so far:
» Feb. 9: Police officials launch the campaign, issuing warnings that look like traffic tickets and list the penalties. "You have to warn people before giving all citations," Police Chief Boisse Correa said at the time.
» March 4: Police officers begin ticketing pedestrians and drivers who do not obey traffic laws. "There's a lot of people not following the law. I guess they don't care," said Lt. Jerry Wojcik, who heads the program.
» Yesterday: The third phase involves several police officers dressed in street clothes, and some in unmarked cars, issuing tickets in densely populated areas. "We want people to change their behaviors at all times, not just when there's a police officer around," Wojcik said.