HONOLULU – As Honolulu tries to brush up its image for tourists by cracking down on homelessness in Waikiki, it is causing legal problems for some visitors.
Hawaii News Now reported (http://bit.ly/1eGRoKr) that one in five of the citations issued for nighttime beach visits have gone to tourists, according to city prosecutors.
Honolulu began closing popular Waikiki beachfront parks at midnight to stop homeless people from settling. Violators receive a criminal citation, which could become a warrant if they do not show up in court.
Those who pay the fine will have a criminal mark on their record, and that could cause non-citizens to be refused entry to the U.S. if they return.
The morning after her 21st birthday in late March, Jalisa Jose and several friends from Idaho were on Waikiki Beach around 2 a.m., during their spring break from college. Police officers approached the group and wrote citations, she said.
Jose said they didn't realize they were breaking the law by sitting on the world-renowned beach, even though there are signs posted about every 50 yards along the sidewalk.
"A couple nights before we were on a beach where it was OK to be on late at night, so we didn't really know," Jose told Hawaii News Now from her home in Lewiston, Idaho.
The citation set a court date of May 27, which she missed. That could lead to a criminal warrant.
Tourists hit with citations have no easy out. They can hire an attorney or request permission to plead guilty by mail, but fighting the citation is more difficult, because you must be present in court for trial. One Toronto woman ended up with a criminal warrant after missing her court date.
Police officers do issue warnings, but they can't make exceptions just for visitors, the department said.
The police may be worried about being sued by advocates for the homeless, said attorney Victor Bakke, who has helped several visitors who received citations. "They don't want to look like they are discriminating against the homeless people," Bakke said.
The mayor's office confirmed the police can't just give visitors a break.
"Police have to enforce the laws equally against everyone," spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said. "They don't target homeless in park-closure enforcements."
Some tourists have told attorneys and court workers that they are so upset they vow never to return.
Information from: KHNL-TV, http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/