Joseph W. Bean
2/9/2006 12:00:00 AM
In October 2004, citizens decided they could make a difference in a dangerous and out-of-control South Maui park. “Anyone who doesn’t see the changes… is just not looking.”
Have you noticed how Kalama Park has changed over the last year? It is no longer a place where a shooting, a stabbing or a gallery of drug dealers waiting for customers would be expected. There’s a very good reason for that.
Readers of Maui Weekly may barely have noticed a small photo published here on Oct. 7, 2004. The caption read, “Sergeant Jamie Becraft, right, looks on as Don Couch, executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa, takes notes at the first training meeting of the Kalama Park Citizen’s Patrol organized by Community Prosecutor Jerrie Shepherd. Maui Police Officer Brad Hickle (left), a familiar and active participant in Kihei-area community action—surprised everyone by attending the meeting in uniform. South Maui residents who are interested in joining the citizen’s patrols should call Shepherd.”
Community organizations kick off high-minded plans all the time. Maybe the reporter for that brief mention suspected that the gathering in Kalama Park on Oct. 7 was no exception to the rule: that the kick-off and the fade-to-blank are usually separated by little action, no real effect and a quick quieting of discussion. That reporter was the same journalist who is addressing you now. Yes, that was me, and yes, I spelled Jerrie Sheppard’s name incorrectly.
Nothing could be better than to discover that Hickle and Becraft were right about what Sheppard started then. It should be mentioned that Couch was dedicated to the proposition that citizens’ patrols could change Kalama Park. He threw himself into the program and provided the first patrol uniform shirts. Everyone, including your cynical journalist, wanted to believe. Fortunately, a healthy handful of South Maui people didn’t just believe, they acted on their belief.
One patrol member, one of the first to show up for a patrol with what became known as the Kalama Park Action Team (KPAT), was away from the patrol program for almost a year before returning on Wednesday, Jan. 25. “I see the change. I see real changes,” he said when your reporter joined the patrol on Friday, Jan. 27. Anyone who doesn’t see the changes, it seems, is just not looking.
Before the Friday patrol walked from its meeting place in the police-car parking area near Foodland, Hickle came out to chat with the patrollers. He spoke of specific encounters with individuals known to most of us, including one he had expelled from the park the night before. He and Sheppard talked about the previous day’s discovery of major graffiti in the park and the quick action of parks department employees in painting over it. Actually, it seemed that his main purposes in coming out were to be sure we all felt good about what we were doing and to be sure we knew that Lt. Ramos (Acting Captain Ramos, at the moment) would not be free to join us on the patrol.
We were a group of eight. We walked from the area behind Aroma d’Italia to the center of the Kalama Village shopping complex, where we picked up flashlights and a clipboard with forms on which to report any incidents or discoveries. At that point, Sheppard called the police dispatch desk to let them know we were beginning the patrol.
For an hour and a half, we strolled around, usually together, sometimes trailing off into two or three groups. We noted graffiti and recent clean-ups. One stenciled duck image spray-painted on the bridge over the stream had not been painted out. A young man came over to tell us that the duck was an emblem used by a group from Kahului.
The people in the park, young and old, seemed to fall into three camps concerning the presence of the patrol. The majority ignored or didn’t notice us. A smaller group greeted and seemed glad to see us there. The remaining minority offered thanks for our efforts in a snide way that was unsettling, but not directly confrontational.
The skate park—half-pipe—is officially closed, with a chain locked across the floor to prevent unauthorized use. Nonetheless, we could hear a skater zipping back and forth with a little skip in the hiss of the wheels as he jumped the chain. As we approached, someone behind us shouted, “Skater! Cops in the park.” He repeated his warning several times, and the half-pipe was empty and quiet by the time we arrived.
Frankly, the worst offenses noted in the 90-minute walk were the stench in the unwashed men’s rooms—almost unbearable in one of them—and the scattering of trash in the stream. All the trash and broken glass had been cleaned out of the stream just six days earlier, but soda bottles and juice boxes bobbed in the water, broken glass was scattered on a concrete bridge footing, and crumpled paper was caught in the grass and weeds. “This doesn’t blow in from the street,” one patroller noted, pointing to a chain-link fence that would prevent that from happening.
The stroll was not a stern or laborious affair. It was more a gathering of friends taking a walk together, stopping to notice damage and threats as well as recent corrections.
One suspected drug dealer was noticed, but we just stayed in view in his area for a while, perhaps disrupting his usual commerce. KPAT is not the police. As the policies written by Sheppard for the patrol say, “We are not to be confrontational…. That’s for police and parks security. Our purpose is to be a presence that invites legit use….”
KPAT, recently formalized as a committee of the Kihei Community Association, meets just before the KCA community meeting on the third Tuesday of each month. Their leadership passes around among the members of the action team. If you are interested in joining the patrol, call Patricia at 879-5654, or just go to the next meeting at the Kihei Community Center at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Patrolling Kalama Park has made a difference. It will continue to have a positive influence on the area, making the park safer, cleaner and more inviting for, as Sheppard put it, “legit use.” What’s more, it really is a fun way to spend a little time any Wednesday or Friday evening.
Copyright © 2007 The Maui Weekly.