Crimes against Japanese tourists raise concerns in Kailua

Crimes against Japanese tourists raises concerns in Kailua
Published: Oct. 23, 2015 at 1:46 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 23, 2015 at 1:23 PM HST
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KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Japanese tourists have been the victims of crimes in the past week in Kailua, and that has residents in the Windward Oahu community concerned.

The most recent incident involving a purse snatching was the talk of the town Thursday, both as an isolated incident and a possible sign of an increasing problem.

Surveillance video showed a man running with a purse Wednesday as bystanders chase him down. Tarek Gopaul is the suspect, charged with 4th degree theft for allegedly taking the purse from a Japanese visitor from the front basket of her rented bike.

Just six days earlier, two people were arrested for allegedly grabbing a bag from another Japanese tourist on a bike in Lanikai Beach Park.

The victims in both cases were assisted by the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii.

"I think all of a sudden people are worried and they're concerned." said VASH executive director Jessica Lani Rich. "Is there a rash? We're hoping that it's just isolated incidents."

In the first of those incidents, the bikes were rented from Kailua Ocean Adventures. Owner Chris Kojima said this is the first time in his six years renting bikes that such an attack has happened. He's also worried that such attacks will scare tourists away -- especially Japanese visitors who make up the majority of his bike rental customers.

"There's definitely a problem, and we need to find ways to fix this, mitigate this problem and keep these people safe when they're visiting town," said Kojima.

He -- and others -- fear that some thieves target out-of-towners, thinking they can get away with it.

"Many of the victims do not want to prosecute," said Rich. "it's very painful for them. they feel like they have to re-live it, and they just want to go back home and forget about it."

However, some victims pursue prosecution. Kojima said he was able to convince his customer to press charges.

Of course, Kailua has struggled with crime for years, especially thefts. And homelessness has been on the rise in the area. But despite this month's violent attacks, Island Snow store manager Rich Whaley is optimistic that Kailua will maintain its charm.

"One incident like that might get some attention, but it's not going to be the thing that stops people from coming over here," he said.

"The reason why people come to Kailua is because it's a great town. it's family friendly. It's a place where you can take your dog to the beach," said Kojima. "It's totally somewhere you shouldn't have to watch your back constantly."

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