The Department of Parks and Recreation is expanding its video surveillance program at city parks thanks to an $11,000 gift by the Palehua Community Association.
The gift, which was approved by the Honolulu City Council earlier this month, will allow for the installation of eight additional video cameras. Four of the cameras will be installed at Makakilo Community Park, with the remaining cameras erected at Palailai Neighborhood Park, about a mile away.
Parks and Recreation Director Gary Cabato said both parks have been targeted by vandals and thieves, either through graffiti or the removal of flush valves from rest stations.
"The cameras are for security," said Cabato. "The graffiti is every day. I mean, as fast as we paint it out, they put it back on."
However, some Oahu residents feel uncomfortable about being filmed in public. Certified Public Accountant Natalie Iwasa doubts she would visit her neighborhood park near Lunalillo Home Road if she knew surveillance cameras were present.
"People don't feel comfortable being themselves when they know they're being recorded or watched," said Iwasa. "If these recordings are available, who's to say if somebody could come in and just take them and use them for their own purposes?"
According to Cabato, only a groundskeeper and a section supervisor will have access to the surveillance cameras' hard drives at each park. The cameras are not connected to the Internet, and will begin recording over previous images after two weeks.
"Should something occur the night before and staff reports it, then we'll pull the tape out and turn it in to the Honolulu Police Department," Cabato told KITV4.
Even with limited access to surveillance videos at city parks, the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union shares Iwasa's concerns about the encroachment on civil liberties.
"The risk of abuse needs to be addressed," ACLU of Hawaii Executive Director Vanessa Y. Chong said in a written statement. "Government cannot be using cameras as 'fishing expeditions' to spy on law-abiding individuals in order to find the guilty few; or create a climate that intimidates law-abiding individuals from expressing their 1st Amendment rights to free speech and assembly."
On July 4, thieves stole copper wiring at Kalihi Valley District Park, resulting in repairs that cost city taxpayers more than $20,000, when labor costs are factored in. Cabato said surveillance cameras at the park could have prevented the theft.
Meanwhile, surveillance cameras are already operating at Pupuole Community Park, Waipahu District Park and Ehukai Beach Park on Oahu's North Shore.
There are also plans to install video cameras at Ma'ili Community Park, Nanakuli Beach Park and Wai'anae District Park at a cost of $2,800. Cabato said the cameras are being paid for with money from the Leeward Coast Benefits package, and were requested by the individual communities.
By the end of the current budget cycle on June 30, 2013, as many as eight city parks could be monitored by surveillance cameras.
"When do we stop?" asked Iwasa. "When is enough enough? I haven't gotten an answer to that question yet."
Chong said Oahu residents would be better served if the city invested in proven crime-fighting methods instead of surveillance cameras. She suggested better lighting, more police foot patrols and neighborhood watch programs.
Cabato said warning signs will be erected at all city parks scheduled to receive video cameras.
Cameras at Makakilo Community Park, and Palailai Neighborhood park could be installed within two months.