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StarBulletin.com

Rise in crime, drugs reported


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POSTED: Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Downtown residents and workers say drug use and violent crimes are happening more often in plain sight.

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“;It's obscene,”; said Shannon Winpenny, co-owner of Laughtrack Theater Company on Bethel Street. “;There is no regard for authority whatsoever.”;

At a Downtown Neighborhood Board meeting last week, more than a dozen business owners and representatives showed up to complain about the growing violence and drug use in the neighborhood and the effect they are having on their businesses.

They described an increase in people smoking crack and of stabbings on downtown streets, reportedly between River Street and Fort Street Mall. Many of the business owners' complaints centered on Bethel Street near Pauahi Street.

“;We don't want to fear for our guests' lives,”; said Patrick Oliver, general manager of J.J. Dolan's pub on Bethel Street. He said he also fears for his own safety.

Police said they are aware of the business owners' concerns and will meet with the Downtown Merchants Association and property owners to discuss the situation, said Maj. Clayton Saito, district commander, in an e-mail.

“;We hear the concerns, and we plan to partner with community groups to come up with community-based solutions,”; Saito said. “;This is an ongoing issue that needs everyone's help.”;

At the neighborhood board meeting, a man with Black Cat Tattoo on Bethel Street said he has witnessed two stabbings within two months on the street.

Winpenny said a man held up her brother with a knife at 9:30 p.m. recently because he refused to buy drugs. And patrons have nicknamed Bethel Street “;the gauntlet”; because of the illicit activity that they have to pass, she said.

Drugs are not unusual in the urban neighborhood, which is a mix of apartments, bars, restaurants and art galleries, but business owners say it has gotten worse since fall.

Some said part of the problem is that businesses allow drug sales to take place indoors, leading to crime spilling out onto the street.

“;We want property owners to realize that they really can't - even if they're getting good money - they really can't rent to illicit businesses,”; said Burton White, general manager of Hawaii Theatre. “;The community's watching.”;

The drug use and crime have not reached this level in 11 years, he said, adding, “;We're seeing blatant drug dealing again.”;

Neighborhood board member Alvin Au said more federal help will be needed from the federal Weed and Seed crime-fighting program.

“;This is a very serious problem we have in our neighborhood. We just cannot tolerate it,”; he said.

Winpenny said the crime is killing her business, and she hopes authorities can do more to help.

“;I love the arts district,”; she said, pointing out that there are five theater companies in the area.

“;It's a renaissance of the arts district,”; she said. “;While that's blossoming, so is the crime.”;