Field Notes: This Group Uses Smartphones to Catch the Bad Guys

Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: neighborhood watches.
Photos: Aaron Yoshino 


Neighborhood Watches once were popularly associated with grannies peering disapprovingly at young people from behind the blinds. The familiar eye-on-the-sign logo? Strictly squaresville. But in modern wi-fi Hawai‘i, the Watch’s eye has become an i and smartphones create feedback loops with neighborhood boards, homeowner associations, local nature and heritage groups, and the Honolulu Police Department. Instead of hosting potlucks, Watchers join email listservs to provide a 24/7 forum; hop on neighborhood Facebook pages like My Kailua to share crime news, gridlock intel and lost pet notices; and use their cell phones to catch bad guys on the prowl. (In a recent ‘Āina Haina case, a fence-hopper’s progress captured by phone went viral on the intranet.) 


Given concerns about racial profiling, the “smart” neighborhood watch is not without potential for misadventure. But the private email groups also can provide a way for busy neighbors to get to know each other. If an email strikes an off note, the crowd can step in. When, on the heels of the Trayvon Martin murder mistrial, an email warned of “a suspicious African-American,” the young man’s auntie was quick to post a correction and a gentle reprimand. (If only George Zimmerman had received the same.)


It’s a brave new world for sure.


The scene


At a recent Community Traffic Awareness event on the corner of Hobron Lane and Ala Moana Boulevard, the vibe was kind of cool in an Occupy way. Besides sporting lime-and-orange safety vests courtesy of the The Queen’s Medical Center’s Trauma Injury Prevention Program, members of District 6 wore bicycle Spandex, thigh-high boots, vintage alohawear and one neatly cinched necktie. Young and old, they energetically hoisted signs so drivers stopped at the light couldn’t avoid seeing them. 


Hawai‘i is ranked No. 1 for pedestrian deaths involving the elderly, reason enough for an event. Corporal Richard Fikani Jr. orchestrated, bringing together three different watches, cyclist groups and first responders. He also brought his entire family. “Whatever event he participates in, we’ll be out there with him and joining in the fun,” said his wife Cherie, keeping an eye on Caleb, 11, and Gabriel, 14.


The people


The gathering felt social, but serious. “When we moved here four years ago,” said Gordon Wood, who lives with his wife, author Pat Kesling-Wood, on their boat in the Yacht Harbor, “the boats around us in the 700 row were leaky, broken, smelly and being used by meth dealers and hookers. We got involved and started walking around in a group and making calls to the police from our phones when we saw something. Then HPD started to come around, the DLNR,” Department of Land and Natural Resources. “We cleaned it up. Then we moved to the 800 row and went at it again.”


Renee and Bob Miller have lived aboard a boat since 1997. “Every Thursday we do our walk with Officer Fikani,” said Bob. Energetic and popular, Officer Fikani helps watches set themselves up, makes frequent patrols and answers emails. Someone at the event suggested we ask about his professional wrestling career. “Yes,” he nodded. “I was El Magnifico. I wrestled in the World Pacific League, in the South Pacific, Samoa, Lā‘ie, Hilo. And at the Blaisdell.”


The technology

Use your phone for more than perp snaps with Smart911, a new free service offered in conjunction with the HPD that allows households to enter information that could prove vital in the event of a fire or emergency. Households fill out a safety profile that can show the number of residents, their medical conditions and doctors’ contact information; details about electrical wiring, alarms and access points; and even special medical alerts for EMTs. Log on to to start.



Malia Harunaga, 24

“We just really want to promote safety, especially for bicyclists. We did a ‘Light Up the Night’ event and gave away free lights.”


Rowan Speck, 8 

Said his mother Cora (rear, in boots): “I’m trying to put the trauma surgeons out of business.” She is the trauma injury prevention and outreach coordinator at The Queen’s Medical Center.


David Moscowitz, 65

“I pushed for the sit-lie bill, for pedestrian access walkways and to control the noise of mopeds. I’m a change agent.”



Did you know? Top concerns: crime reporting, suspicious individuals, illegal parking, homeless camping, clueless hikers, drug dealing.