More security sought for Kamakana Villages

  • The entrance to the Lei Kupuna property at Kamakana Villages is seen on Friday. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — When Kamakana Villages welcomed its residents at the start of last year, the new development was roundly regarded as a critical piece to the puzzle of providing more affordable housing to the region’s residents.

We were so happy and hopeful for our new home,” said Carrie Borge, a resident of Lei Kupuna, the development’s senior housing property.

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But since moving in, Borge said residents have been witness to criminal activity, including drug activity and thefts in the area. They’re calling on the property’s management to do more — such as installing security cameras and hiring security — to combat the issues.

“Seniors are making an effort to do their part, but there is only so much we should be expected to do,” Borge said. “Management knows we have a serious crime problem and it’s getting worse. Residents need management to do their part and put security measures in place and start a communication system to alert residents of current criminal activity. I think it is unrealistic for management to totally rely on the police and residents.”

Residents’ worries about security culminated in a March meeting with police, who told the community that the lack of manpower combined with the department’s large coverage area limited regular police patrols in the area. Management also reportedly told residents there wasn’t money for the requested security measures, but offered to support the formation of a neighborhood watch or citizens patrol.

Still, the concerns remain at the community.

MORE POLICE NOT AN OPTION

A spokesperson for The Michaels Organization, which manages Kamakana Villages’ Lei Kupuna and Lei Ohana properties, acknowledged the lack of cameras and hired security personnel. She said they have five team members who live on site, adding that lease terms are strictly enforced and illegal activity is grounds for eviction.

“All of our site management employees live at this community and we get very positive feedback about life at the community,” said Laura Zaner, of The Michaels Organization. “A lot of what we’re talking about here is an education for police, our residents and management staff. We are excited about this conversation and will continue to support police and residents to the best of our ability.”

Borge said it wasn’t long after move-in that problems at the development started.

Seniors, she said, witnessed drug activity close to the property’s entrance as well as along Manawalea Street, which runs along the south side of the property.

It’s caused residents to feel unsafe, she said, and without cameras around the property or a security service, “we are an easy target for criminals.”

Lt. Reynold Kahalewai of the Hawaii Police Department’s Area II Vice section said the unit has executed three search warrants for narcotics at the Lei Ohana property, located above Lei Kupuna. Officers recovered narcotics in those cases, two of them involving methamphetamine.

Zaner said management “takes seriously and documents any and all lease violations.”

“Residents are issued violation notices and are subject to consequences should it be determined that they are involved in an illegal activity on our property,” she said.

It’s not just suspected drug activity that has alarmed residents. At the start of February, for example, a moped was stolen from the Lei Kupuna parking lot.

The moped’s owner, Dan Schoonover, said there had apparently been some prior thefts at Kamakana Villages, but he didn’t hear about them until after his own moped was stolen.

“When I moved in, they never said that they had moped theft problems here. There had already been three or four of them that had been ripped off before mine,” he said. “Had they told me that, I would have been locking it up way better — I may have even put it in the apartment.”

In total, police have responded to just over 100 calls at Kamakana Villages from January 2018 to this past April, according to department data.

Kahalewai said he couldn’t say whether he thought the rate of criminal activity was better or worse at Kamakana Villages compared to other areas of the community.

“But we do have people in the community from various complexes that have concerns about narcotics — not only narcotics use but distribution as well — on the whole west side of the island,” he said.

Kahalewai said residents are always encouraged to report suspected drug activity using either the Vice hotline at 329-0423 or the islandwide Crime Stoppers number at 961-8300. Both lines allow callers to report anonymously.

RESIDENTS ASKED TO ASSIST

Zaner echoed the importance of residents reporting criminal activity.

“In order to enforce these rules and evict problem residents, we depend on our residents to be part of the solution,” she said.

Last month, she added, the sheriff and deputies evicted a resident. When the resident returned, police were called and that person was arrested for trespassing.

“If residents continue to call and assist police and management in instances just like this, we will continue to be successful in providing a place our residents love to call home,” she said.

But Borge argued seniors have been doing their part.

“I know seniors have continually reported drug use occurring on and off property and other crimes to management,” she said. “Many of us keep watch of our community. We have called and met with police to report crimes, requested police patrols and took steps to initiate a Community Policing meeting.”

That meeting took place in March. Both Zaner and Borge said the officer who attended the meeting told attendees that regular patrols of the properties weren’t possible because of the large size of the Kona district coupled with a lack of manpower. Borge said when residents asked management about better security at the meeting, management said they don’t have the money, but encouraged residents to keep asking or start a petition.

Schoonover said he’s also suggested cameras to management, saying “a few well-placed cameras” would catch everything at the property.

“They said they were just not going to do it. That was their response,” he said. “But there’s a solution. You want to talk about a solution to a problem, that’s the solution. Because the people that are doing that, they see the signs saying there’s cameras, you think they’re going to come around here and steal and do stuff that (is) illegal in front of cameras? They’re not going to.”

Schoonover said he doesn’t think the property is necessarily a dangerous place, but said cameras would be a warning to deter any would-be thieves.

Zaner said it’s common for apartment communities, condominiums and homeowners to choose not to install cameras or hire security, “because we support and trust the police.”

She said there are security alarms and interior cameras at the management office, where residents’ personal information is held on file. Management also hosts community meetings, she added, in addition to publishing and delivering a monthly newsletter along with flyers on bulletin boards in the common area.

Zaner also said a security camera at the community center that was previously not working has been repaired and is “now back and operational.”

Management at community meetings also put forward the idea of a citizens patrol or neighborhood watch, Zaner said, and they offered to help residents pursue such a program by offering training, flashlights and T-shirts. Though, Borge said she doesn’t consider such a program safe for the property’s senior residents.

Overall, Zaner said management believes there’s a growing sense of community at Kamakana Villages and “the vast majority enjoy living there.”

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Borge, however, said the situation she sees in her community shouldn’t be considered acceptable.

“I pay my taxes. I pay my rent and follow the rules,” she said. “We should have the same protections and rights like everyone else.”

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