Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center ramping up security measures

MPD foot patrols, more cameras, more personnel among the steps taken in wake of criminal attacks

Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center head of security Sean Everett walks the food court area Friday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Off-duty Maui Police Department officers on foot patrol, more security personnel and surveillance cameras in two bathroom hallways are among the increased security measures Queen Ka’ahumanu Center (QKC) officials have implemented in light of two serious crimes that occurred in a one-week span this month.

A Jan. 3 alleged attempted sexual assault and a Jan. 9 alleged robbery attempt may have reignited fears in those who recall a fatal machete attack last year in the second-floor bathroom.

A man was also stabbed in that restroom in 2011. In 2012, a man was punched, strangled and stabbed in the bathroom near the food court.

“I think it’s important to know that all of QKC management have lived here on Maui for a considerable period of time and have grown up here on the island. They have their own family, their own children and their own grandchildren. We are vested in ensuring a safe place for everybody,” said Toni Rojas, the mall’s vice president for business and community development.

The off-duty officers were scheduled to start foot patrols at the mall this weekend, Rojas said in an interview Friday at the mall’s management offices. And within 24 hours of the alleged attempted sexual assault at the food court restrooms, a surveillance camera was added to the restroom hallway as well as to the hallway near the restrooms on the second floor near the Macy’s men’s store, Rojas said.

Toni Rojas, vice president of business & community relations, said Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center is “vested in ensuring a safe place for everybody.” -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The cameras are in addition to others already installed around the property, she said.

BUS HUB AT MALL MAY BE FACTOR

“QKC management seeks to assure the public that the shopping center is a safe and secure environment for patrons, tenants and staff by addressing the publicly aired concerns,” mall officials said in a release Friday.

Rojas and the news release pointed to “a shift in demographics,” especially in Central Maui. It called the mall an “easy accessible, private property with high pedestrian traffic.”

Rojas pointed out that the Maui Bus transit hub at the mall will be moving; the mall’s lease with Maui County ends on Jan. 31, 2020. Rojas said the mall was not designed to accommodate the increase in bus rider growth over the 14 years since the lease began.

Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center Vice President of Business & Community Relations Toni Rojas discusses security improvements at the Kahului mall Friday morning. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

She did not mention it, but customers and merchants have been concerned that having the bus hub at the mall may have led to more crimes there.

In last year’s fatal machete attack, police said the incident began when 23-year-old Kumulipo Sylva and 35-year-old Eduardo “Alex” Cerezo got on a Maui Bus in Pukalani. Sylva allegedly killed Cerezo in the second-floor bathroom. His case is pending in 2nd Circuit Court.

Rojas said it has not been determined by mall officials if any of the suspects in the latest crimes came off a bus.

In the Jan. 3 incident, a 40-year-old woman reported she was grabbed while walking to the bathroom near the mall’s food court and was forced into a stall in the men’s bathroom, where the man pulled out a knife and threatened to sexually assault her. Raymond Birano Jr., 58, was apprehended by mall security. He was later arrested and charged with kidnapping and attempted first-degree sexual assault. Birano also has a history of crime, including a murder conviction for an incident in 1978. He is being held on $500,000 bail. A March 11 trial is set.

On Jan. 9, a 55-year-old female shopper was on the third floor of the parking structure next to Macy’s when a man allegedly brandished a handgun and demanded the woman’s purse. The victim, who did not report any injuries, handed over the purse. The man and a woman, who also approached the victim, then fled. Police said on Friday they were still searching for the suspects.

A security camera overlooks the hallway leading to the food court bathrooms. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In the news release, Rojas said the mall “extends its sincere condolences to the victims and for the unfortunate crimes against them. We thank the security personnel that acted quickly and appropriately to help Maui Police Department apprehend the parties involved. As always, QKC continues to provide security measures to help deter events like this from happening.”

Rojas said Friday that after the past incidents the mall did increase patrols of the restroom areas: “We find it more effective to maximize our personnel to cover not just the restrooms (but) the food court area and parking lot area as well.”

Because of security reasons, Rojas said, she could not disclose how many additional security personnel or officers have been added or where they would be stationed. But last year following the machete attack, Rojas said the mall had 14 security officers.

Another Queen Ka’ahumanu Center official said that number was “on par” with similar shopping centers in Hawaii and regionally. Rojas said the new security puts them “over par.” She said that Allied Universal, which specializes in malls, is the security provider.

So far, the mall has completed much of its plans to beef up security since last year’s fatality, such as stationing a guard at the bus hub and joining the Maui County Hotel and Resort Security Association, which shares information about incidents as a way to keep updated and prevent suspicious activities.

Yet to be done since last year is crisis-intervention training through the Maui Police Department. Rojas said it depends on the police budget and timing.

On Friday, Rojas met with merchants, informing them of the changes. Some workers said they were alarmed and concerned they were not notified sooner about the Jan. 9 robbery and had to rely on social media to get information.

“I just wish we can find out sooner, as soon as the mall finds out,” said a worker, who did not want to be identified so as to not call attention to the business.

The worker tried to get through to mall management during the Jan. 9 incident to find out what happened and whether the store needed to be locked down. But Rojas said the mall analyzed the situation and “It was determined there was no need to alarm the tenants or the public.”

BUSINESS NOT YET SUFFERING

“I (still) feel safe in a way; I’m just going to be extra cautious of my surroundings. Maybe if there was more security present throughout the mall, it would make us feel safer,” said a merchant who wanted to remain anonymous.

Another merchant said, “I feel, maybe little bit less safe.” The merchant pointed to people just hanging out and not shopping.

The center’s news release noted claims of the mall not addressing loitering and disorderly conduct. It said the mall’s policy “balances citizens’ rights with safety concerns.”

“As a privately owned property that invites the public to visit for shopping, dining and entertainment, the center is empowered to establish our own regulations on patrons’ conduct as well as our security team’s response to inappropriate and unsafe activities occurring on the property,” the release said.

Overall, Rojas and mall merchants say the incidents have not hurt business.

“Eventually, they are going to come back. Right now people are still shook up and are on guard,” said a mall worker. “Sales for us have been OK.”

Rojas said: “Based on current statistics and metrics, it appears it has not impacted business.”

Rojas said the mall encourages the community and its tenants to report any concerns by calling the security phone at 877-0718 or texting 415-9663. Emergencies should be directed to 911.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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