World-famous Waikiki is known for its white-sand beaches and rolling waves, but it's also a haven for petty criminals who prey on unsuspecting tourists. If you spend just a few minutes on Kuhio Beach, it's not difficult to spot unattended bags, surfboards and other items laying on the sand.
"I tell them to keep an eye on it, because the cops can't see everything," said Berton Wong, who works as a beach attendant for Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki. "I just tell them to really be careful about (their stuff)."
In October, police in Waikiki noticed a spike in the number of beach thefts and took action. Officers switched to T-shirts and comfortable pants, and began patrolling the beach near the water's edge.
Honolulu police spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the new Waikiki Beach Patrol has resulted in the number of beach thefts being cut nearly in half. Although current statistics are not available, there were 2,656 personal property thefts reported in Waikiki in 2011, a 12.5 percent increase from the 2,360 thefts reported in 2008.
Robert Finley, chairman of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, says even petty crime can have an impact on tourism, especially if thieves target visitors from Japan.
"One visitor telling the Japan Travel Bureau, 'Oh I got mugged; I got robbed, (or) whatever,' sends a flash across the entire nation," said Finley. "It's not good for us."
Officers assigned to the Beach Patrol work out of the nearby Waikiki police substation, or are assigned bicycles. HPD won't say how many officers walk the "beach beat" every day, but generally officers are on patrol from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"I've noticed that they've definitely been around more," Wong said about the presence of police officers. "I mean, it just feels like a safer place."
The Waikiki Business Improvement District Association already pays for Aloha Ambassadors to patrol areas along Kalakaua Avenue, but if there's a theft in progress, all the ambassadors can do is call for help. The nonprofit group also provides the police department $150,000 a year to augment overtime expenses. However, HPD won't say whether the Waikiki Beach Patrol will become a regular fixture.
"I hope it becomes permanent, (but) it's a funding issue," said Finley, who also serves as an ex-officio member of the WBIDA.