In six years, a group of volunteers, working along with police and county officials, has transformed Kalama Park from "not a good place to go and hang out" to a place where families go for walks, bike rides, sporting events and picnics.
"I think it's a good thing, it's very positive," said Capt. Tivoli Faaumu, commander of the Kihei Patrol District, referring to the Kalama Park Action Team's efforts and its walking patrols of South Maui's largest regional park.
Faaumu knew that Kalama Park was not a good place to go several years ago. But "from what I learned the history behind KPAT, they basically brought Kalama Park to where it is now."
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa and wife Ann observe as the Kalama Park Action Team and Maui Police Department officers visit a pavilion that is a popular gathering place for homeless people.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
In summer 2004, residents banded together, and along with the help of Deputy Prosecutor Jerrie Sheppard, who was then the Kihei community prosecutor, formed the Kalama Park Action Team to address crime and safety issues at the park. The group was formed after a series of disturbing events: a corpse was found near a baseball field (and determined to be a homicide), picnicking off-duty police officers were shot at, and there were many complaints of drug use and vagrants at the park.
Sheppard, speaking as a Kihei resident, said the park's recent success came about through the partnership the volunteers have with the police and county parks officials. The volunteers report problems and then work alongside authorities to deal with them.
Earlier this month, KPAT volunteers Bob and Lis Richardson publicly expressed concern about the county budget process and urged the county to keep funding the park rangers (also known as park security officers).
County spokesman Rod Antone said in an e-mail that funding will not be cut for the program.
In fact, Mayor Alan Arakawa and his wife, Ann, took a stroll with the action team during the group's first walk of the new year this month.
"I'm glad the patrol here is starting up again. This park is so well-used by families and schools and other community members that we need to make sure it is safe for everyone," he said in an e-mail statement.
Sheppard said patrols have been held periodically at the park, and after a brief recess in 2010, they have again resumed.
She said around 17 people showed up for the evening patrol held earlier this month, and volunteers noticed that the playground was in "vigorous use" by children, while other children were volunteering their time painting the skateboard park.
Sheppard said that in the past, vandals damaged the skateboard park; people used to be passed out drunk on the picnic tables; homeless people used to have mattresses in trees; and parents didn't want their children to walk from the skateboard park or inline hockey rink to the parking lot because of the vagrants and troublemakers who hung out there.
KPAT volunteers didn't feel safe patrolling the park in the evenings even if police were along.
Now more lighting has been added to the park, large trees and shrubs, which used to be hangouts for drug users, are gone and there is a walking trail that is widely used, Sheppard said.
But she said there are still things to do. The inspection found that a bathroom is in serious need of intensive cleaning, and KPAT also wants to clean up some graffiti at the park.
Another longtime action team volunteer, Stuart Funke-d'Egnuff, also applauded the cooperation between the group, parks staff and police.
He said the volunteers need the parks and police help, as the group just acts as the eyes and ears and refers problems to the county and police.
He added that the lights and benches along with walkways have made the park more appealing to people.
But Faaumu credited the volunteers.
"As a commander, I'm very thankful I have this type of community association that's willing to help (instead of) just waiting for the police to do something. They are doing things."
To get involved or for more information about the Kalama Park Action Team, contact the Kihei Community Association at email@example.com or Sheppard at 270-7777.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.