LAHAINA - Five months after forming the Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch, problems have been greatly reduced and the neighborhood is a much safer place to live, said coordinator Marishia Hannemann.
Residents banded together in May after brazen thieves repeatedly targeted south Lahaina homes in broad daylight.
"In May 2012, we had three homes targeted for theft, and my home was one of them. I talked to a fellow neighbor about this, who suggested someone start a neighborhood watch in our community. I thought it was a great idea, so I printed out 40 notices and put them on neighbors' doors asking them if they wanted to form a Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch to address the crimes in our neighborhood and the vagrants sleeping on our beach," noted Hannemann, who hosted the first meeting in her back yard.
Police are patrolling the beach in the Shark Pit area in south Lahaina to discourage camping and alcohol consumption.
"Forty residents showed up, and 17 people signed up as block captains that night. Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch was named in honor of our beloved neighborhood surf break."
Community members soon donated items for a yard sale. Proceeds were used to buy 100 Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch signs to post in the neighborhood, as well as 50 T-shirts with the SPNW logo designed by local artist Daryl Millard for area residents.
Hannemann credited Lahaina Police for working with the group, following up on leads and patrolling the area.
"We now have signs posted on each end of all three beach accesses that go into our residential beach from Lahaina Shores down to Puamana prohibiting alcohol consumption and camping on our beach," Hannemann explained.
"Since starting our watch group five months ago, Capt. (John) Jakubczak has given us great help and has increased the patrols in our neighborhood. Lahaina Police are now doing regular beach patrols by ATV or foot. I was told by Capt. Jakubczak that these patrols will continue to happen on our beach and in our neighborhood," she added.
SPNW members would often encounter ten or more people sleeping on the beach every morning, "and now it is almost nonexistent since we started doing our early morning beach patrols and reporting these incidences to the police," she noted.
Capt. Jakubczak, commander of the Lahaina Patrol Division, noted, "There were reports of burglaries and thefts from the residential areas along Front Street from Shaw Street towards Puamana. Also, with the clearing of the homeless from the Kaanapali Land Management Company's property mauka of the Lahaina Aquatic Center, there was an increased number of homeless people sleeping on the beach in front of the homes on Front Street. Some of these homeless people were drinking alcohol, doing drugs and trespassing onto private property as well.
"The Lahaina Police's response has been to actively patrol the beach area from Puamana towards Kamehameha Iki Park, enforcing the camping on the beach violations, as well as the consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs. We have also attended the Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch meetings to keep updated on the issues concerning the group, and we have also cut down our response times to that area when called."
Now totaling 125 members, the SPNW has an e-mail network to quickly report the latest incidents and suspicious activities in and near the community. Fifteen members of the list are government officials and Lahaina Police.
Residents at the north end of Front Street have been coming to SPNW meetings. They seek help with similar issues, Hannemann said.
"They are angry at what is happening at their end with all the rip-offs and homeless living on their beach. They are losing hope, because they don't have the support of their neighborhood like we do," she commented.
"If they see what we were able to do on this end of Front Street, then hopefully it will spark more of them to band together and start cleaning up their end of Front Street."
With criminal activity on land now under control, the neighborhood watch is expanding its reach to also care for the Shark Pit reef. This will be covered in the next article.