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Citizens’ Patrol back on road after COVID delays

Program credited with deterring car break-ins at popular beach parks

Longtime volunteer Adele Rugg gets behind the wheel of a new Citizens’ Patrol vehicle Tuesday at the Kihei Police Station. She and Don Jensen, one of the program’s original volunteers, took the 2020 Nissan Kick on its first patrol after a blessing Tuesday. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photos

KIHEI — After a break of several months during the COVID-19 pandemic, police Citizens’ Patrol volunteers are back on the road in South Maui, patrolling beaches and parking lots in a new vehicle.

“It was a long time coming,” police Lt. Audra Sellers said at a blessing for the vehicle Tuesday at the Kihei Police Station.

Shortly afterward, longtime volunteers Don Jensen and Adele Rugg took the 2020 Nissan Kick on its first patrol to resume the program that has volunteers reporting law violations and deterring crime through their presence.

“They are the eyes and ears of the department,” said Sellers, who is commander of the police Community Relations Section. “They also act as ambassadors.”

Residents and visitors often have questions for the volunteers, who patrol areas from Maalaea to La Perouse Bay.

Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu joins Kimokeo Kapahulehua in a blessing Tuesday of a new Citizens’ Patrol vehicle at the Kihei Police Station. Citizens’ Patrol volunteers are spaced around the vehicle.

The program has been credited with curbing the number of vehicle break-ins, which in South Maui now average about 10 a month, down considerably from 40 to 60 previously, Sellers said.

“They definitely make a difference being out there and being visible,” Sellers said.

In the two weeks from Nov. 15 to 28, police reported four vehicle break-ins in South Maui.

The new Citizens’ Patrol vehicle was bought from Jim Falk Nissan with $25,000 from the Laurence Dorcy Hawaiian Foundation. The nonprofit Maui Police Foundation helped facilitate the funding.

Volunteers donated the $600 for Citizens’ Patrol decals for the vehicle, Jensen said.

He was one of the original volunteers when the patrol started in 1994. Back then, the group didn’t have a car and set up an umbrella and chairs in the Makena State Park parking lot for the first few months, Jensen said.

He said the patrol had donated rental cars for a while, then used old police vehicles. In November of 2019, volunteers learned the former captain’s car they were using would be out of commission in March, Jensen said.

Over the years, the program has gone through changes.

At one time, volunteers wrote handicapped parking citations, helping free officers from that duty, Sellers said.

“It morphed over time,” Sellers said. “But the commitment of our volunteers, department and community has not changed or wavered.”

Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu remembered being a young patrol officer in West Maui before the program started.

He said an officer assigned to the Kapalua area would spend the entire eight-hour shift documenting thefts from vehicles, while an officer assigned to the Olowalu area would do the same. To minimize such calls, officers would take turns watching those areas.

That changed when the program started in West Maui and volunteers patrolled the high-crime areas, Faaumu said.

“It’s really helpful,” he said, addressing about a dozen volunteers at the blessing Tuesday. “Our officers really thank you for everything you do.”

Faaumu said he hoped to see the program restart in Lahaina and expand to Paia.

Volunteers take classes to learn the law and what to look for while on patrol, Sellers said. Along with a vehicle, they are assigned a cellphone to report attempted or actual crimes, medical emergencies, rescues, motor vehicle crashes and violations of public order.

The volunteers meet monthly, with the meetings continuing even in recent months when a vehicle wasn’t available.

“It’s been a very gratifying program,” Jensen said. “I’m giving back to the community, but it’s also fun.”

He said volunteers have pulled into a parking lot, only to see two or three carloads of youths immediately leave.

“We’re flying the flag,” he said. “We’re there as much to scare them away as anything. We are not active in the arrest.”

He recalled one case years ago that developed after he was told by an officer at the gym that many break-ins were occurring at the La Perouse parking lot. When he was on Citizens’ Patrol the next day, Jensen noticed a suspicious car there that was going slowly with its occupants looking into other vehicles but couldn’t get its license plate number.

Two days later, he spotted the same car and followed it to the south parking lot at Makena State Park, where a couple got out and went to the beach. This time, he got the license plate number.

About 30 minutes later, as he was driving through Makena Landing, Jensen was waved down by a newlywed couple whose car had been broken into in the south parking lot at Makena while they were parked next to the suspicious vehicle.

Police located the suspect car at Chang’s Beach in Makena, recovering a stolen movie camera with a video of the couple’s wedding, Jensen said.

“That’s one that really made me feel good,” he said.

Sellers said the program was created to generate community involvement.

“We want the community involved in helping keep us safe,” she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Citizens’ Patrol can call the police Community Relations Section at 244-6380.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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