Tuesday, August 4, 1998

Cameras may
soon roll in
and Waikiki

A Council bill should
close a loophole for the
crime-monitoring cameras

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Video cameras to monitor criminal activity on the streets of Chinatown and Waikiki could be running in the next few weeks.

To allow the videotaping as evidence in court, the City Council has introduced a bill to close a loophole. During the pilot project last year, a camera filmed a drug deal, but the case was dismissed because the videotape evidence was thrown out of court.

The Council will consider the measure at its meeting in Kapolei tomorrow.

Wiring has been installed for 14 cameras in Chinatown and six in Waikiki, according to Cheryl Soon, transportation services director.

Ten cameras will be installed in the Chinatown area bounded by Fort Street Mall and River, Hotel and Pauahi streets.

In Waikiki, the six cameras will be on Kalakaua Avenue between Royal Hawaiian and Paoakalani avenues.

The city is spending $300,000 for the Chinatown project and $200,000 for Waikiki.

The areas have long been plagued by street crimes such as drug-trafficking, prostitution and purse-snatching.

If successful, the program could be expanded into other neighborhoods.

Proposals have already been introduced to install cameras in Wahiawa and along the North Shore.

While designed to aid police, the cameras are to be monitored by public volunteer groups.

Volunteers are being used partly because of personnel considerations and partly so that there is less of a "big brother" tone to the program, said police Assistant Chief Barbara Wong.

"The first thing that has to be understood is that this is a community-driven project," Wong said.

Residents and business representatives from the areas played a key role in deciding where the cameras are being placed, she said.

Local police visited three mainland cities that use video surveillance cameras. All three had decreases in crime in the vicinities of the cameras.

"The primary use is deterrence of crime," Wong said. "Once people are aware that (the cameras) are there, I'm sure it won't be used as much for catching people."

Circuit Judge Frances Wong, in throwing out the drug evidence, said there are no city or state laws governing the use of tapes from government-owned video surveillance cameras as evidence in criminal court proceedings.

Prosecutors are appealing the decision, but Council Chairman Mufi Hannemann has introduced legislation he believes will meet Wong's criteria.

Hannemann said the bill "clearly enunciates the policy to back up the video surveillance cameras."

Councilman Jon Yoshimura, who represents the downtown-Chinatown section, said it is unclear whether the city has jurisdiction over the matter. The state Legislature may have power over what evidence can be allowed in state court, said Yoshimura, an attorney.

The courts may require that state law regarding the evidence code be changed, he said.

Deputy Prosecutor Cecilia Chang said while her office does not believe there needs to be any legislation at all, Hannemann's bill should satisfy Wong's concerns.

Chang noted that Wong's ruling did not suggest any illegality in the use of videotaped evidence, only that there should be legislation defining procedures for its usage.

Yoshimura hopes Chang is correct.

"We've waited a long time to get this program off the ground but I'm happy there is light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

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