KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii Police Department has been upfront about its law enforcement efforts around the Maunakea protests since the demonstration began in July.
The department increased its presence near the access road on the mountain — where the gathering against the proposed construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope began last summer — to ensure that laws are being followed and public safety is maintained.
The effort has netted police thousands of citations and dozens of arrests.
In fact, according to the department’s most recent weekly press release on the issue, officers have written 6,585 traffic citations during the 13-week enforcement effort.
But none of those citations are for safety violations when it comes to motorists flying flags from their vehicles.
Police told West Hawaii Today they are leaving it to the individual officer’s discretion on whether to cite individuals for such reasons and so far, officers haven’t had cause to do so.
The flags, which are a sign of support for the protest, can be seen on vehicles across the island, not to mention the state. Some of them appear large, but police said whether any of those flags violate code depends on who’s considering it.
“If an officer should see a vehicle that has a flag, any flag, displayed in such a manner that it creates a significant safety hazard in his or her opinion then they would be justified in stopping and warning or citing that violator for the correct traffic code or county ordinance,” Lt. Edwin Buyten said.
The traffic code that addresses the violation, section 24-102, states: “Windshields; visibility unobstructed; stickers. (a) No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sign, poster, or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield, side wings, or side or rear windows of the vehicle which obstructs the driver’s clear view of the highway or any intersecting highway.”
Mayor Harry Kim, who spoke to Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise Nov. 6, said “the flags people are flying from vehicles are signs of pride.”
Buyten said the department isn’t specifically looking for safety violations when it comes to flags, either.
“We are not directing our personnel to go out and look for flag violations, and as of yet, we have not seen any of these violations,” he said. “We encourage our officers to enforce traffic laws effectively and fairly with the overall goal of deterring illegal and/or unsafe driving behavior.”
Police assigned to be in place for the TMT protester blockade and encampment on Maunakea Access Road began their stepped up traffic enforcement efforts on Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Route 200) Aug. 15, a month after the protest started.
Protesters of the $1.4 billion telescope project, who call themselves protectors, or kia’i, of Maunakea, have occupied the Maunakea Access Road in opposition to the project.
The enhanced police efforts just from Nov. 7 through Thursday resulted in the issuance of an additional 312 traffic citations and the arrest of two suspects for 11 offenses.
The combined total of the 13-week long Daniel K. Inouye Highway enhanced traffic enforcement efforts by Hawaii Police Department stands at 6,585 citations issued and 62 persons arrested for 121 offenses.
The effort will continue for the duration of the ongoing protest situation to promote the safety of motorists and pedestrians alike, police said.