Brush fire fight triggers question over police power

Brush fire fight triggers question over police power
Robin Bond, Jr. charges the brush fire with his garden hose
Robin Bond, Jr. charges the brush fire with his garden hose
Another Kalama Valley resident tries to put out flames
Another Kalama Valley resident tries to put out flames
Peter Hirai
Peter Hirai

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tense moments in Kalama Valley this week trigger new questions over residents' rights to protect their property. When the flames are getting close, do police have the authority to make you leave?

Save your home or your life. That's the dilemma that prompted a shouting match between a police officer and a resident who was fighting a brush fire with a garden hose.

Hawaii News Now caught video of the friction between the officer and Good Samaritan, as flames erupted. The brush fire flared up Monday night behind some homes on Kalina Place.

Neighbors tag-teamed to fight it until firefighters arrived. At first, Honolulu police officers helped them out. But when flames grew, one officer yelled at the residents to come down the hill.

Robin Bond, Jr. was one of them.

"Is your home worth your life?" asked the officer.

"It's my house!" said Bond.

Bond, Jr. says he understands that police are just looking out for their safety.

"I certainly don't want to convey that I'm telling people to disobey the police department," he said.

But Bond says what bothers him is the officer's threat.

"He said you're right, I can't arrest you but I'm still going to drop you to the ground and drag you down this mountain."

Bond eventually gave in, only because he wasn't sure if he'd get arrested.

"If a homeowner chooses to stick to their home to the bitter end, that's my right because I paid for my home."

It turns out, he's right. The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) says in general, they can't arrest someone who's trying to save their property, or another life, even if they're in harm's way. As for other disasters, like hurricanes or floods, does Civil Defense and Emergency Management have the power make people leave?

"We cannot force them to evacuate from private property," said Peter Hirai, Deputy Director of the Honolulu Emergency Management Department.

Case in point - the guy in Waikiki who still went in the ocean during the tsunami warning last February.

"At that point we don't want to endanger our responders. Our responders are very valuable so basically if someone's in harm's way and it's too late for us to send responders in we have to depend on their good sense to evacuate on their own," said Hirai.

Emergency leaders urge the public to heed their warnings. But the ultimate choice is up to individuals.

"It blew me away that there was this possibility that someone thought they had the authority to tell me I can't try to save my home," said Bond.

HPD says there are extreme exceptions. For example, if you get in the way of firefighters, or tamper with their equipment, officers can remove you. But they still can't arrest you, unless you commit a crime.

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