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Under the Radar

The underreported stories of 2013.

January 2, 2014
Opinion by Susan Halas - Contributing Writer ( , Maui Weekly

Last week, we reported on stories that made the news in 2013. Starting in the new year, the Maui Weekly nominates three subjects in need of more media attention.

1. Maui Police Department

The Maui Police Department (MPD) got plenty of ink in 2013, yet why are we left feeling that the real story isn't being told? There's something about the coverage of the local police department and its activities that misses the mark.

Article Photos

Living in a high-profile community bursting with wealthy residents and upscale visitors hasn’t spared us the problems of the less fortunate. And moving the homeless from place to place does not solve the problem.

Over the years, I've been a real fan of the local police. When I first arrived in the mid-1970s, one of things that set Maui apart from other places I'd lived was the warmth and friendly personal conduct of the police here. They'd help you change a tire; they'd see you got home safely if perhaps you'd had a few too many. Those were the days when there were no state-of-the-art police cars. Back then, the cops drove their own vehicles and the blue light came off the roof when the shift was over.

Is it just my imagination, or do I remember a time when the police got out of their cars and sat and talked with us--the people who paid their salaries--as friends or neighbors? Was there also a time when a traffic stop did not require four vehicles, or when a trip down to the station did not seem like entering a potential area of armed conflict?

There's security, and then there's too much security.

It's not that the police beat has disappeared.

The palatial new police station in Kihei got plenty of ink. But though the station is open, the public and media have yet to be invited to tour these new facilities. Perhaps the powers that be might consider an open house? E komo mai?

While the Taj Mahal was going up in South Maui, the tiny police substation on Market Street in Wailuku closed down. It turned out that the police didn't feel safe there --to quote a county official, they felt "like sitting ducks." It had been constructed without consulting them, and they wouldn't use it at all unless it was made bulletproof.

All that time, we thought MPD wanted to be in Wailuku, wanted to actually keep an eye on the neighborhood, and that a small facility like that might help them do their job, and help us get to know them. But from MPD, the neighborhood heard "thanks, but no thanks" (but we'll keep the reserved parking).

There was plenty of coverage last July of the acquisition of the new $280,000 Bearcat tactical assault vehicle and/or the display of any number of fancy new weapons now in the MPD public safety arsenal.

There was also just a wee bit out-loud wondering about whether these were actually for our protection or just part of the national trend toward the militarization of the cops.

There were also a number of less-than-reassuring reports on members of the force who took actions that did not reflect well on the department, and are now either in jail or on leave. These stories appeared and disappeared just as rapidly--no follow-ups, no investigations (or at least nothing that was made public)--and nothing that would suggest that these were more than isolated instances rather than a trend.

Far more troubling was the coconut wireless. Here on Maui, we have the media, we have the Internet, but we also have some of the most effective word-of-mouth on the planet. For the MPD, what went out on the coconut wireless was mostly not reassuring.

The things that people said to each other over coffee and in line at Long's did not suggest that they felt pride and confidence in their police, but rather that there was plenty of fat and quite a bit that the public might not like if the true facts were to surface.

This year might be the year that the MPD actually gets to know, and perhaps even trust, members of the press. But somehow, I think that isn't going to happen.

2. Homeless

Living in a high-profile community bursting with wealthy residents and upscale visitors hasn't spared us the problems of the less fortunate.

As 2013 came to an end, the pre-Christmas eviction and bulldozing of the squatter settlement on banks of 'Iao Stream across from the Millyard did make the news.

After something like seven years, hundreds of building code violations, millions of dollars in unpaid fines and long, drawn-out litigation, the shanty town finally came down and hundreds of residents, their children and animals were disbursed to parts unknown.

There is a semi-permanent vagrant living in the entrance to Maui Academy of Performing Arts on Main Street in Wailuku. He's there most days with his shopping cart and he's sleeping on the ground. He is one of many.

It's not just Wailuku--it is Lahaina and Pa'ia and Maui's other towns, our beaches, the vacant lots and rough camps back in the kiawe thickets. There are more people than we can see or count living rough.

There were stories about feeding the hungry--about the food bank, churches and other outreach programs and their good works. There were stories on the social agencies that serve this population, but anything with depth and analysis hasn't run yet, and it isn't likely to run soon.

When it comes to answers, there don't seem to be many around, but moving the homeless from place to place does not solve the problem, and looking the other way isn't going to make it better either.

3. 'It's Still the Economy, Stupid'

The economic news coverage last year was relentlessly optimistic. As you probably read, the Dow hit an all-time high. Here at home, the real estate market was coming back, new stores, hotels and restaurants were opening, and unemployment was decreasing.

Yet, this rosy picture did not mesh with most of the stories that small business owners or average working people told me.

For every businessperson who told me it was a good year, there were five who said their delinquent and uncollectable accounts had risen.

For every parent that said their son or daughter had graduated and found a good job, there were many more who said that Kimo or Lei came out of school with big debt and still haven't found suitable employment.

And how many teachers told you they loved their new contract that called for an increase in hours, but no increase in pay?

Even as the mayor and council members accepted big raises and beefed up staffing; even as taxpayers footed the bill for lavish new facilities; even as the fees for simple and essential government services like car registration skyrocketed; the word on the street from your average citizen was that times were still plenty tight and the long-term unemployed and underemployed are still very much with us.

The seeming excesses of the police, the growing homeless population and the squeeze on the middle class were all stories that didn't get the attention they deserved in 2013. Perhaps this year, we'll take a closer look



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