Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Customs situations
often require
fast response

Question: Last month, while taking my uncle to his doctor's office on Nimitz Highway, he was startled to hear a siren next to us. When we looked all we saw was a white Jeep Cherokee with a blue sticker with an eagle in the middle and the words "Customs Service." Are they a law enforcement agency? What was so urgent that the driver needed to turn the siren on and drive through intersections at a very high rate of speed? What, did someone lose their luggage and he needed to rush to wherever he was going so that he could fill out the appropriate forms? Are his superiors aware of his actions? A Honolulu police officer was at the intersection; why didn't the HPD officer also respond if it was so urgent? This occurred during lunch-hour traffic, where the risk of a collision is high. To the driver: Please be more careful when you pass people on the road. We were one of those cars nearly hit by you.

Answer: The U.S. Customs Service is a law enforcement agency and some of its vehicles are equipped with sirens and flashing lights.

"We are required to monitor and inspect the arrival of all aircraft and vessels, whether passenger, cargo and anything else, that comes into the United States from foreign (ports)," said Harley Carter, assistant port director for passenger operations in Honolulu.

The Customs Service has "multiple functions" on Oahu, with the arrival of all types of vessels by sea and air, including at military bases -- "virtually any location where a vessel can arrive in the islands," he said.

Carter noted there have been "a couple of incidents lately that required officers to go from one area to another rather quickly."

But, he said he did not have enough information to respond to your specific complaint. If you want to follow up, call 522-8060.

In general, there are numerous types of situations which could require a Customs officer to respond quickly, he said.

That would include supporting another officer "who is performing some law enforcement function; an emergency situation at the airport, such as a terrorist threat; discovery of an individual with a weapon in a controlled situation -- any number of things that could occur in law enforcement," Carter said.

Regarding the police officer at the intersection, he could only speculate that the officer probably was immaterial to what was happening with Customs.

"There are occasions when we do assist the police department or request their assistance, such as when we're boarding vessels and come across someone with (outstanding) warrants," he said.

As for using the siren to get through the intersection, Customs "officers are authorized to use them in situations that they deem necessary," Carter said. However, "they must observe safe driving procedures. If they did something erratic that frightened another driver, that obviously is not desirable. But sometimes that's unavoidable (in) trying to get through a crowded traffic situation," Carter said.


To city workers working near Queen Street and Ward Avenue early Sunday morning, Oct. 10. I was having car problems and was at a gas station checking the oil and water about 12:45 a.m. when one worker asked if I needed help. It was scary being a woman by myself at night, so I appreciated his concern. -- Vikki

Need help with problems? Call Kokua Line at 525-8686,
fax 525-6711, or write to P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
Email to

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