Law enforcement plans strong presence on Fourth of July

Published On: Jul 02 2013 09:58:00 PM HST

As many as 50,000 people are expected at Ala Moana Beach Park for Independence Day as the Ala Moana Shopping Center puts on its 22nd annual fireworks display.

But with elbow room at a premium, authorities say they'll be strictly enforcing park rules, which means no pets, no tents, no fireworks and no alcohol.

"We have no wish to have someone cited," said Rosalind Young, West Honolulu manager for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation. "It would be nice if they have a nice day and follow all the rules."

The Honolulu Police Department said undercover officers would be patrolling the park throughout the day and evening hours to crack down on open alcoholic beverages and other violations. 

"Officers that are going around, they'll be checking for alcohol as far as enforcement," said Lt. Dee Ann Koanui of HPD District 1. "Obviously, if it's not in visible bottles there's not much we can do about it, but we will try to warn, and if we have to, cite. If we have to arrest, we will."   

Ala Moana Beach Park will close at 10 p.m. Wednesday, but the city is allowing up to two people to remain at the park overnight to stake out picnic areas.

"The policy has worked well in recent years and we want to keep the park available for families to enjoy this great American holiday," Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Friday.

The park will reopen at 4 a.m. Thursday and parking will be first come, first serve.

"Do not save stalls for other people," warned Koanui. "Whoever gets their stall gets that stall."

Two miles east of Ala Moana, Kuhio Beach Park will host thousands of beach goers hoping to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Fourth. The Walter J. MacFarlane Regatta is expected to attract as many as 30,000 people, while an unsanctioned offshore party known as the "flotilla" will attract hundreds more.

Begun more than a decade ago as a way to cheer on racers in the regatta, the flotilla has become an annual tradition. However, last year the fun was overshadowed by concerns over safety as 175 to 200 people were assisted back to the beach through 4 to 6-foot surf.  Many of those reaching the shoreline had been drinking, according to officials with the Department of Ocean Safety.

"It's probably not a really great idea to mix any excessive amount of alcohol and water," said emergency room physician Jon Buras. "You do run the risk of potentially aspirating water, and you can go as far as drowning if you're not careful."

Although the same park rules in effect at Ala Moana apply at Kuhio Beach, there's no law against drinking alcohol a quarter of a mile out to sea while bobbing on a rubber mattress, surfboard or other flotation device. Adding to the difficulty for law enforcement, many of those who are drinking use indistinguishable cups or other receptacles.

Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said conservation officers would be monitoring the flotilla throughout Independence Day, but declined to discuss the number of officers involved or other aspects of the operation.

Meanwhile, a conservation group plans to collect trash generated by the flotilla for the second year running. Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii will utilize a 50-foot catamaran, a canoe, two boats and 15 standup paddle boards to pick up bottles, cans and other garbage before it hits the water.

"We devised a plan to go out there and create trash stations and be able to collect as much of it out of people's hands to keep it from going to the ocean floor," said SCH executive director Kahi Pacarro.

Pacarro said his organization's main boat would be alcohol free, but many of the volunteers taking part in the trash gathering effort are young people who enjoy a few beers or cocktails.  

"If we see somebody in danger, we're going to help them," said Pacarro. "But at the same time, we're not taking responsibility for everybody out there. Let's all be responsible for ourselves."

After last year's Fourth of July flotilla, police officials met with counterparts from DLNR and Ocean Safety to discuss a possible ban of the offshore party, but backed away from such a move.

"If there are enough people that aren't using their heads when they're out there, they're going to ruin it for the majority of folks, and it's about keeping people safe," said Buras.


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