Arrests of juveniles in state down in 2002
|||Chart: Juvenile arrests 1992-2002|
By Allison Schaefers
Advertiser Staff Writer
The number of arrests of juveniles in connection with serious crime in Hawai'i fell for the fifth year in a row in 2002, dropping more than 50 percent in the past decade, according to data released by the state attorney general's office.
Official 2002 numbers won't be available until October, but preliminary figures show that juvenile serious crime arrests will be fewer than 2,500, the lowest since data collection began in the mid-1970s. From 1975 to 1997, the number of arrests was between 4,000 and 7,000 per year, said Paul Perrone, research chief for the attorney general's office.
Of the 2002 arrests, about 86 percent involved property crimes. Serious crimes are classified as murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
The decline, which mirrors national trends, may have occurred for a number of reasons, including the statewide economic recovery, decreases in overall youth populations in Hawai'i, and declining national crime rates, said criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind, director of the University of Hawai'i's Youth Gang Project.
Whatever the reasons, serious juvenile crime in Hawai'i is far less a concern than five to 10 years ago, said Perrone.
"Although from week to week, you might hear about a violent shooting or an especially horrible crime involving a juvenile, it doesn't broadly categorize juvenile crime in this state," he said. "From a big-picture perspective, we've had a really dramatic, unprecedented drop in juvenile crime year after year."
But Chesney-Lind warns that the arrest numbers could rise in the future.
"People imagine all kinds of possible explanations for why crime has dropped, but the only thing we can say with some degree of assurance is that it won't last forever," she said. "Criminologists always need to be cautious about racing out and claiming success."
In the 1980s and early 1990s, there were far more serious crimes being committed by youths than today, Chesney-Lind said. A fatal shooting in the Farrington High School parking lot and a couple of deadly beatings resulted in high-profile discussions about youth gangs, she said.
"But we haven't seen the exponential growth in gangs that many feared," Chesney-Lind said.
The drop in violent crime among Hawai'i's youth is evident in communities such as Papakolea, a Hawaiian Homelands community, Chesney-Lind said.
A decade ago, crime was a serious concern for Papakolea residents, who said it was common to see high numbers of teens hanging out on Krauss Street and Tantalus Drive drinking, smoking, dealing drugs and carousing with unemployed adults until the early morning hours.
But after problems with youth gangs in the mid- to late-1980s and early 1990s, law enforcement and the community focused their attention on the area and put more service programs into schools and the community.
Those programs include the Papakolea Boys and Girls Club and other communitywide programs, such as business training, lomi lomi classes, health outreach, church services and sporting events, said Donnie Hoover, project coordinator of the Papakolea Boys and Girls Club and a lifetime resident of the area.
On a recent Tuesday, a lone, bare-chested, cigarette-smoking teen sat on the rock wall of Krauss Street where neighbors said teens once gathered because they had nothing else to do. These days the real action in the neighborhood is next door at the Boys and Girls Club, said 14-year-old Kaapuni Asaivao as she bounced a basketball on the court.
"We used to see a lot of teens drinking, doing drugs and other things. They'd be standing right there," Asaivao said, pointing to a spot about 40 feet from the park. "But it doesn't happen anymore."
That's because the community has taken back the neighborhood and park, Hoover said.
"The community realized that if they could maintain this property, they could maintain the community," she said.
Hoover said the Boys and Girls Club has helped give young people something to do and has kept them out of trouble.
Programs such as Papakolea's Boys and Girls Club and others are a major component for the drop in serious juvenile crime arrests, said Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle.
"Prevention, prevention, prevention that's the key," Carlisle said. "Preventative efforts at an early age will have enormous ramifications down the line. I'm extremely optimistic about the future."
Reach Allison Schaefers at email@example.com or 535-8110.