Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 22, 2004

Crime on O'ahu dips to 3-year low

 •  Police know Ala Moana mall as theft hotspot
 •  Crime on Oah'u from January to June 2004

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

The streets of Honolulu may be getting safer.

After Hawai'i led the nation in thefts in 2002, Honolulu police buckled down, hired more officers and pushed for increased community vigilance. Statistics now appear to validate those efforts.

Crime in Honolulu has dropped significantly this year, according to a preliminary examination of raw figures being compiled for the state attorney general's semiannual crime report. That information becomes part of the state's Uniform Crime Report for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Crime in the United States report released each October.

The Advertiser culled data from each of 156 police beats comprising eight districts, discovering that while property crimes were the most common offense on O'ahu during the first six months of 2004, they were still the lowest first-half property crime totals recorded in the past three years. Looking at the same time frame in 2002, the difference between the two periods is 38 percent.

From Jan. 1 through June 30, 22,462 crimes were committed on O'ahu, and 21,553 of those were property offenses including theft, burglary, car theft and car break-ins. In the first six months of 2003, 34,029 property crimes were committed, down from the first half of 2002 when 34,958 similar property crimes were reported.

If the trend holds for the second half of this year, Hawai'i could land in the middle of the nation's theft spectrum when the FBI releases its 2004 report. In 2002, when Hawai'i ranked No. 1 in thefts, showing an 8.3 percent increase from the prior year, another western state, Arizona, was ranked in the middle of the spectrum with only a 4.9 percent increase in its year-over-year theft figures. The FBI groups states by region.

Officials warn that it may be premature to rely on raw numbers.

"We tend to look at the data from the first half of the year as being preliminary and suggestive. Our comprehensive analysis is done once we receive a full year of data," said Paul Perrone, chief statistician for the attorney general. "Crime is somewhat seasonal."

The bulk of crime so far this year has been centered on three major shopping centers and the Pearl City police district, and that has taken some by surprise.

Lloyd Calendar, a retired Monterey, Calif., police captain who lives on Alelo Street near Waikele, was amazed to learn that a lot of crime has occurred in his neighborhood. While he does not dispute the numbers, he said he's completely comfortable and takes walks late at night with his wife.

"I haven't seen any indication of anyone doing anything illegal," said Calendar, 59. "It is a very quiet area."

In all there were 36,528 crimes during the first half of 2002 and 35,770 during the first half of last year in the state. Those figures include numbers for the violent crimes of rape, homicide, aggravated assault and robbery. In the first six months of 2004, murder and rape remained constant, but low by national standards, while aggravated assault and robbery reports declined by more than half.

Police acknowledge that Honolulu is one of the safest cities in the country when it comes to violent crime, and blame widespread theft and other property crimes on the state's drug problem.

"Theft is one of those crimes of opportunity," said Honolulu Police Deputy Chief Paul Putzulu. "It is there, you see it, you take it. People have the means to convert it into cash or trade it for something they want, mainly drugs."

Fewer HPD vacancies

Police would not release the number of officers deployed to each district citing Homeland Security regulations.

Increased police presence and community awareness have helped pushed the number of property crimes down steadily during the past three years, police said. The proper staffing of beats, the creation of new beats, and the collaborative efforts of HPD Crime Reduction Unit and patrol officers has helped.

"We are working with the prosecuting attorney's office to target active people in the community who are committing property crimes," said Putzulu. "We want to get them charged and locked up."

In addition, HPD has worked to alleviate years of staffing shortages, filling vacant positions by hiring larger recruit classes and graduating more new officers. As of June 30, HPD had 2,062 sworn positions. That includes 264 vacancies and 190 officers in training. That gives the police a net vacancy of 74 positions, one of the lowest totals in years. By comparison, in August 2003 there were 122 net vacancies.

More officers means a larger police presence on the street.

Of the five busiest police beats on the island this year, three are home to major shopping centers, and four of the five are in the Pearl City area. The areas around Ala Moana Center, Pearlridge, and Waikele Shopping Center, were rife with theft, car theft, and car break-ins during the first half of this year.

Shoplifting at all the shopping centers padded the theft numbers.

"The grouping of large numbers of people in one area — that is a magnet for theft issues," said Gary Dias, a retired HPD officer who lectures in the criminal justice program at Chaminade University. "At a shopping center, (stealing) is easy to do, it is simple to do, and the odds are in your favor. You will not be caught, and once you build that confidence, that this is easy to do, you're going to steal."

Dias calls theft the No. 1 offense in Hawai'i, and other property crimes are easy to commit, he says.

"It's not a difficult crime; it's a quick crime. A lot of times you don't even see the theft occur," he said. "You really have to commit a lot of property crimes and appear in front of the same judge before you're going to go to jail."

Palolo Valley: 'i love it'

After living in the same house on the same street in the same neighborhood for four decades, it's going to take more than two burglaries in 12 months to make Robert Murata move from his Palolo Valley home.

With 44 crimes committed during the first six months of 2004, the Palolo Valley area had the lowest reported crime total of any Honolulu metro neighborhood.

Murata, a 70-year-old retiree, dismisses the loss of property on two occasions with a wave of his hand, calling the incidents inconveniences. "We love it over here; people are nice," said Murata. "Every place you go something will happen. This is a good place to live; I love it."

Murata may be an optimist, but his statements are echoed by many in the quiet, older community. "I've been here 35 years and I feel safe," said Ricky Rafanan, a 77-year-old retiree who lives near the back of the valley. "If I wasn't comfortable I would have moved a long time ago."

Darlene Nakayama, chairwoman of the Palolo neighborhood board, said community members have noticed a significant downturn in crime during the first half of 2004. Nakayama attributes that downturn to increased vigilance and a collaborative community effort.

"Hopefully this (decrease in crime) continues and people continue to have pride in their community," Nakayama said.

Alice Yogi, 58, said her house has been broken into once and on another occasion she said she caught a kid trying to break in through her front door. But like Murata, she said she still feels safe in her neighborhood. "It's not so bad."

Busiest areas

Population data for each patrol district was difficult to estimate because patrol beats are not drawn according to U.S. Census tracts.

About 900,000 people live on O'ahu; the busiest areas for police are around Waikele, Pearl City and Pearlridge, and Ala Moana.

Waikele — Beat 362

Despite 441 crimes being reported in Beat 362, the second-highest total on the island, some residents in and around the Waikele Shopping Center say they feel safe and comfortable.

Of the 441 reported crimes, 438 were property crimes. Cars are broken into and stolen, homes are burglarized, and items are taken from driveways and open areas.

The Waikele beat is bounded by Kamehameha Highway, H-1 Freeway, Wainui Road, and the Central O'ahu Regional Park.

The area is a collage of planned communities, a mixture of lot homes and townhouses, arranged around the shopping center and a golf course.

The communities may be divided by streets, but their design and coloring make for a quiltlike array of housing clusters. Every yard is manicured, and pentagon-shaped alarm signs pop out of most bushes.

Larry Rabsatt frequents Central O'ahu Regional Park in the northeastern corner of Beat 362 in Waikele. He said that he feels safe around the shopping center and that he wouldn't have guessed there was a lot of crime.

"Most of the time I come here, it's quiet," said Rabsatt, an 'Aiea resident.

But some residents of Waikele subdivisions are aware of the high number of thefts, car thefts, and break-ins.

Gary Adkins, 56, a retired Honolulu Police Department violent-crime detective, said the area is perfect for thieves.

Adkins said most homes in the area are expensive, and that crooks are aware that most are empty during the day while people are away at work. He said the close proximity to H-1 Freeway makes it easier for thieves to drive into the neighborhood, steal stuff, and get out.

Adkins said it is a common trend in any high-density area, but that the amount of crime doesn't necessarily make the neighborhood unsafe.

"The kind of crimes you are getting are nonconfrontational," he said. "They are crimes where the victim doesn't see the culprit."

Pearl City — Beat 370

With 430 crimes reported in the first six months of 2004, 423 of them property crimes, this quiet lower Pearl City neighborhood seems like a risky place to own anything.

Stretching from the Pearl City peninsula to the outskirts of Pacific Palisades, police and residents have long known of the problem with property crime. Beat 370, which covers just a portion of Pearl City, is bounded by Moanalua Road, Waihona Street, and the peninsula.

Residents say stolen cars are often ditched in front of Manana Elementary School, on Kuhaku and Kumano streets. Manana Park, on the diamondhead side of the school, is by day a practice field for Little Leaguers but becomes a hangout for vagrants at night, residents say.

Celia Perreira, 58, who lives on the corner of Kuhaku and Kumano, said her house has been broken into twice. She said the thieves made off with all her jewelry and family heirlooms. She said she is worried by the people who hang out in the park across the street at night.

"During the daytime it is really quiet and it is a nice neighborhood," she said. "It is the people walking around (at night) that you don't trust."

Herbert Takeuchi, 68, lives across the street from Perreira on Kuhaku Street. He said his car was stolen from his driveway Aug. 8. Like Perreira, he notices people hanging out in the park late at night.

"It's still a good neighborhood," he said. "No more enough cops around here."

Albert Fukushima, chairman of the Pearl City neighborhood board, said his house has been broken into twice but he still feels good about the area.

"I feel safe enough," he said. "If you take precautions it should deter the criminal element."

Not everyone in the area agrees.

"It doesn't feel safe," said Rochelle Uno, 33, who had her car stolen from her driveway on Kumano Street. "Guys abandon stolen cars right in front of our house," across the street from Manana Elementary.

Pearlridge — Beat 380

Like Beat 362, 380 has a large shopping mall in the middle of it and contains several H-1 Freeway onramps. Of the 382 crimes reported, 377 were property crimes. Both Pearlridge Shopping Center and the 'Aiea Shopping Center make the area a major thoroughfare. Three major roadways — H-1, Moanalua Freeway and Kamehameha Highway — run through the beat, which is bounded by Kamehameha Highway, H-1, Kaonohi Street and Lauliha Street.

Most residents here believe that most crime is concentrated in and around the shopping centers. Homes and apartment complexes in the area are heavily secured.

"I think it is kind of scary," said Matt Iwami, 19.

William Clark, chairman of the 'Aiea neighborhood board and a former HPD deputy chief, said the fact that Beat 380 has three major thoroughfares running through it makes for a transient group of people mixing with residents.

He said the 'Aiea community is an older one, and the high amount of crime makes him nervous for all the people who stay at home during the day.

"I'm not happy about any crime that happens, period," said Clark. "I'm concerned about it, not overly concerned about it — but I'm sure the victims are concerned."

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •