State and Hawaii County law enforcement officers issued more than 100 citations over the past four Sundays to people at Kehena Beach or who had parked along Highway 137 to reach the black-sand beach in Puna.
The Hawaii Police Department, the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE), and Department of Public Safety Sheriff Division combined forces to enforce existing state and county laws dealing with issues like alcohol consumption, drug use, and public nudity. Many claimed to be from the same residence or having medical issues which prevented them from wearing masks, as required during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officers also handed out more than 200 face masks to people who were not maintaining social distancing.
DOCARE Lt. Lawrence Terlep Jr. said reaction to the increased law enforcement presence was mostly positive, but some people were concerned.
“We try to explain the situation to them,” he said.
Kehena is the only beach along the entire Puna coastline with safe access to the ocean after lava took Kalapana, Pohoiki, Kapoho and Wai‘opae Tidepools.
“These were all areas that were accessible to people and they are no longer there. We are seeing the population increasing and now everybody is trying to find a space where they can enjoy the ocean…that’s Kehena,” Terlep explained.
Between four and eight officers “swept” the beach each of the four Sunday afternoons, according to the DLNR. State officers (DOCARE and sheriffs) issued a total of 123 citations. On the beach violations included alcohol, drug, and open lewdness. On the highway adjacent to the beach dozens of motor vehicle tickets were given for expired safety inspections, lack of insurance, and other violations.
The trio of law enforcement agencies plan to continue regular patrols at Kehena and of the entire Puna coastline and encourage people to know current emergency rules, as well as laws and regulations in place for public beaches/areas, and to follow them to avoid a court date and potential costly fine.