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Taking back the neighborhood

May 31, 2004

WAILUKU - The open drug sales, illegal drinking and fights in Sharon Fernandez's apartment complex appear to be happening less frequently now that she and her neighbors are fighting back.

Kahekili Terrace Resident Patrol members have been building up their forces for the last seven months, making regular nighttime walks through their neighborhood and alerting their neighbors of their efforts to restore a safe, healthy and drug-free community.

Fernandez, 37, has been living at Kahekili Terrace on Market Street overlooking the Iao Stream for about 19 years. She said she's seen adults exchanging money for drugs out in the open. She's seen underage drinking and smoking occur on a wall at the apartment complex, and she's heard "too many" fights - domestic and otherwise - in her neighborhood. "It was getting too much, every day, every night," Fernandez recalled last week.

In August, she met with officials of Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.'s Head Start Free to Grow project, a program aimed at supporting preventative measures with families at risk of turning to violent and drug-filled lives. Together with the Maui Police Department and Kahekili Terrace management in the state's Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii, Fernandez and her boyfriend, Ernie Ramos, organized and spearheaded a resident patrol.

Different from a Neighborhood Crime Watch program, a resident patrol has individuals walking the streets and alerting law enforcement of any suspicious activity they may encounter. In the case of Kahekili Terrace, patrol members wear bright yellow T-shirts and jackets with the group's name on it. "It gives us eyes and ears in the community," said Wailuku community policing officer Craig Bajadali. He and Sgt. Jamie Becraft of the Maui Police Department's Community Relations section have joined the patrol on its walks to show support for its efforts.

But most of the work has fallen on Fernandez and her neighbor, Mary Naauao, who are still trying to get more of Kahekili's residents to join them on their weekly patrols. They took their first walk in November and could only go out once a month because of the small numbers. The patrol has at least a dozen members now and walks for about two hours a night at least once a week.

"People have to get involved," Fernandez said. "They have to think what's better for their community," she said. Naauao is convinced that the patrol has made a difference in the decline of illegal activities in her neighborhood. "It's great. It's doing really good right now," Naauao said.

Becraft said calls for police service to Kahekili Terrace actually rose when the patrol initially started making its walks because residents were calling about suspicious activity, instead of waiting to have it escalate. "It's proactive work, not reactive," Becraft said.

In his work, Bajadali said the resident patrol has made it easier for police to enforce rules and talk with violators, especially because they're experiencing pressure from their own neighbors. "It's not come in, bang, bang, arrest. We can talk to people and explain the rules," Bajadali said.

Naauao's 15-year-old daughter, Shantel, isn't permitted by mom to go along with the resident patrol, but the youngster believes she's benefited from its work. "It's good. The (patrol) helps clean the kids out," Shantel said.

Fernandez said many of her neighbors have shown skepticism and refused to join the patrol. "Some of them are scared. I know that and I understand," she said.

Becraft said it's important that people know that the patrol can only be successful if citizens get involved and remain vigilant. "Unless you have effort, you won't have results," he said.

Kahekili Terrace is the only area with an active resident patrol on Maui. There have been attempts in other areas, but all have petered out, according to Becraft. He said this resident patrol is the longest one running on Maui, and it's actually building up steam with more scheduled walks, more members and even organizing recently its first combined resident patrol.

Folks in the Piihana neighborhood, just south of Kahekili Terrace, joined the patrol one Friday night and walked both neighborhoods.

Residents at Hale Makana o Waiale, the transitional housing by Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center, have also shown an interest in developing their own resident patrol.

Bajadali said police discourage members of the resident patrol from confronting possible violators of the law. "We don't want them involved in confrontations," he said. But they do encourage the people on patrol to telephone the police as soon as they see suspicious activity.

Fernandez prepared fliers last week announcing resident patrols for the month of June. Neighbors are asked to walk the area between 8 and 10 p.m. on June 3, 8, 21 and 28. The next combined resident patrol will be from 8 to 10 p.m. on June 16.

Becraft said his office welcomes individuals interested in establishing either a Neighborhood Crime Watch program or a resident patrol. For more information, call 244-6380.

Written by Claudine San Nicolas, May 31, 2004, and reprinted with permission from the Maui News,


copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.