Waikiki lifeguards frustrated as homeless fights, obscene acts distract from job duties

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Waikiki Beach is the crown jewel for the state's tourism industry, and lifeguards in towers are positioned every 100 yards, to watch the millions of visitors on the sand and in the water.

But lifeguards are also being forced to deal with disturbing, sometimes violent or obscene acts happening right in the front of them, most in or around the pavilion on Kalakaua Avenue.

Cell phone videos sent to Hawaii News Now show a woman using part of the tower and the rock wall of the pavilion to brace herself as the sandy walkway becomes her toilet.

On another day in the same area, a homeless man is sleeping, when another starts whacking his face with a towel then dumps water on him.  This resulted in a fight between the two.  A fight the lifeguard was forced to break up, leaving his tower unmanned.

"They're being expected to do everything," says Emergency Management Services Chief Jim Howe. "This really detracts from what they're primarily there for."

Even more upsetting, cell phone videos show homeless people engaging in lewd acts, in broad daylight.  Some right on the sand. Others try to use the pavilion's shade to hide their obscene behavior.

Angry or frightened tourists take their complaints to the lifeguards, the most visible authority figures on the beach.

"When it happens, the public sees it, they identify the lifeguard as the individual that is going to deal with it," Howe said.

Howe says lifeguards are supposed to use their radios to notify Ocean Safety dispatch, which then notifies Honolulu Police dispatch, but by the time the information is relayed and an officer responds — the situation is over.

Howe says that often upsets the tourist reporting the incident to the lifeguard that action wasn't taken sooner.

Honolulu police say they are aware of the complaints and are working with EMS and Howe to come up with a faster way for the information to get to HPD.

The city is also talking about adding cameras that would be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by police officers at the Waikiki substation, which is only about 100 feet from the pavilion.

The substation has one officer assigned at all times but that officer is not allowed to leave, so when someone walks in to report a crime, another still has to be dispatched.

The rest are out on bike patrol, foot patrol, or in cars.

The pavilion, which was built decades ago to provide a shady spot to enjoy the world renowned view is becoming a permanent shelter for homeless. The city is currently discussing options for the structure.

One suggestion being considered, involves installing lockers to secure beachgoers' valuables.  The locker fees could pay to staff the lockers.

In the meantime, lifeguards hope something is done to take the pressure off of them.

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