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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

State's theft rate still high

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i will likely continue to rank among the states with the highest theft rates, according to a state attorney general's report released yesterday that showed overall crime increased 13.3 percent here in the first six months of 2002 compared with the same period last year.

Auto thefts increased by 43.1 percent, while larceny thefts rose 9.1 percent.

In 2001, Hawai'i had the nation's highest larceny theft rate and ranked eighth in motor vehicle theft rates, according to Paul Perrone, chief of research for the state attorney general's Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance Division.

Perrone did not have 2002 crime statistics for other states, but said Hawai'i's increases solidify the state's top ranking in larceny-theft and probably place it among the top two or three nationally in auto theft rates.

"That's when you compare it to state-by-state auto theft figures for 2001," Perrone said. "You do have to take into account that crime has also gone up nationally — but the spike in our auto thefts probably moves us up in that ranking."

Perrone cautioned that Hawai'i's crime rate might be inflated because of the high tourist population, which is the target of many crimes but not counted among the resident population when calculating a per-capita crime rate. Hawai'i has a population of about 1.2 million, including about 200,000 nonresidents on any given day.

The figures released yesterday showed increases in both overall violent and property crime rates in Hawai'i.

Despite a decline in murder and forcible rape, violent crime rose 5.4 percent in 2002 because of an increase in aggravated assaults and robberies, up 8.7 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively.

Perrone attributed part of the increase in crime to the unusually low crime figures in 1999.

"We've seen a slight annual increase since that 1999 low, and if there is any good news, we are not at a crime wave level of sorts," he said. "But to have all that improvement of the late 1990s disappear overnight is troubling, particularly since the six-month increase is already in the double digits."

Perrone and Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue say they don't expect a dropoff in crime in the second half of 2002 statistics, to be released next year. "For O'ahu, we're probably looking at an 18 percent overall increase in crime for all of 2002," Donohue said yesterday.

The police chief said the figures pale compared to the all-time high in 1995, but police are not exactly pleased. "It's still a lot better than it was eight years ago, but we definitely need to concentrate more on the property crime problem," Donohue said.

He gives several reasons for the sharp increase in property crimes, including a sluggish economy, an increase in the use of crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," and a shift in philosophy about incarcerating criminals.

"Around 1997, (thenistate public safety director) Keith Kaneshiro tried to hold the line on incarceration, and now we're starting to see those same people come out without the mandatory substance treatment that is needed," Donohue said.

In response to the growth in auto thefts, Donohue said the Honolulu Police Department's Career Criminal Unit has been targeting car thieves for most of the year.

O'ahu auto thefts were at an all-time high in October, with 846 cases. Police believe concentrating resources on career auto thieves and more inspections of auto repair shops and suspected "chop shops" led to a 24 percent decrease in November.

The auto-theft increases are not limited to O'ahu, however.

State figures show Maui had 383 auto theft cases, a 54.4 percent increase. Kaua'i had 56 cases, a 60 percent jump, and Maui had 227 cases, a 6.1 percent increase.

Honolulu police also have been targeting the top two or three career burglars in each O'ahu police district in an effort to lower the number of burglaries.

"We're also working with the state paroling authority in taking more criminals off the streets on retake warrants before they commit additional crimes," he said. "We need the community involved, so we're also trying to invigorate our neighborhood security watch program."

Honolulu prosecutor Peter Carlisle said it concerned him that those committing property crimes to fuel a drug habit are apt to turn violent. "As drug users get more desperate, the danger is the situation can escalate to more violent crimes," Carlisle said.

The latest figures for Honolulu showed a 16.8 percent increase in crime overall — 7.5 percent in violent crimes and 17.3 percent in property crimes.

Hawai'i County had a 3.6 percent overall increase — a 21.8 percent drop in violent crimes and a 4.7 percent increase in property crimes.

Kaua'i County had a 39.1 percent increase — 71.7 percent in violent crimes and 37.6 percent property crimes.

Only Maui County reported a decrease in crime. Violent crimes were down 6.1 percent, and property crimes down 5 percent.

Reach Scott Ishikawa at sishikawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 535-8110.