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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 26, 2004

O'ahu: Lots of crime, but little of it is violent

By Peter Boylan and David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writers

New statistics reinforce the image of Honolulu as a place where violent crime is relatively rare but property crime is rampant when compared to Mainland cities used as benchmarks by the Honolulu Police Department.

The comparison is based on the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report released yesterday.

Overall, violent crime in Honolulu was up 0.19 percent, from 2,601 crimes in 2002 to 2,606 crimes last year, while property crime was down 11.6 percent, from 54,670 in 2002 to 48,306 last year.

Meaningful comparisons to other cities, however, depend on crime rates, which are the number of crimes per 100,000 residents.

According to the latest figures, Honolulu had 287.9 violent incidents per 100,000 residents. Its property crime rate was 5,335.9 incidents per 100,000 residents. There are 905,301 people living on O'ahu.

A look at property crimes in other cities shows that property crime is higher here than in San Francisco, with 4,058.4 property crimes per 100,000 residents, San Diego (3,290.1) and Las Vegas (4,560.6). Only Phoenix has a higher property crime rate, 5,852.6.

San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Phoenix are used by the Honolulu Police Department as benchmarks for policing practices and staffing issues.

However, when it comes to violent crimes — including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — Honolulu's rate is much lower than all four of the cities. With a violent crime rate of 287.9, Honolulu trails San Diego (476.9), Phoenix (506.5), San Francisco (537.7) and Las Vegas (694.5).

Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa said yesterday that while the FBI report is a comprehensive collection of raw data, the department considers several other crime studies and data in making its policing decisions.

"We ask the (district) commanders (about the report), we get feedback, and then we put all the pieces together," he said.

Residents said they enjoy the city's relative safety and know that other places aren't so safe.

John Young, a chef who lives in 'Alewa Heights, said he feels much safer in Hawai'i than he does in Las Vegas.

"I feel that I can freely walk through my neighborhood at night or anytime of day," he said.

Overall, major crimes in Hawai'i dropped significantly in 2003 compared with 2002, including a 35-year low in homicides and a double-digit drop in property crimes.

There also was promising news among juvenile arrests, which reached a sixth consecutive record low last year at 2,113 arrests. From 1975 to 1997, juvenile arrests ranged from 4,000 to 7,000.

The numbers released yesterday by the FBI are identical to numbers released by the state attorney general's office in July. What the FBI report does is put the Hawai'i crime statistics into a national perspective.

Paced by the trends in Honolulu, statewide crime statistics for 2003 follow a similar trajectory.

About 6,000 fewer property crimes were reported in 2003 compared with the year before. There were also two fewer murders, five fewer rapes and 42 fewer robberies across the state, according to the data, which are gathered from each of the states.

Overall, violent crime fell last year nationwide, with only a slight uptick in murders marring the overall trend of fewer crimes across the country, the FBI reported.

While the numbers are encouraging, criminologists caution that the report is only a representation of raw data and is not indicative of the country's overall crime problem.

Ron Becker, a professor of criminal justice at Chaminade University and chairman of the criminal justice program, said that the FBI report can mean several things.

"It can mean less crime is occurring in our community; it could mean that police are using more discretion for which crimes to arrest," he said. "Some (law enforcement) agencies try to maximize their arrests so they can justify budgets while some agencies are more concerned with providing assistance to the community in the form of intervention as opposed to arrests."

Becker said that Hawai'i's strong sense of community, family and "aloha" could account for some police officers' assuming a more affable approach to policing.

"One of the things that appears to happen more in Hawai'i, many police officers may attempt to resolve problems arising in communities as a counselor or an arbitrator with arresting being a last resort," he said. "Other, less personal Mainland jurisdictions don't have this as a focus."

A major limitation of the FBI report, Becker said, are unreported crimes.

"The majority of crime occurring at any location goes unreported," he said. "It's called the 'dark figures of crime' " by criminologists throughout the country.

Becker said that it is important to contrast the FBI report with national crime victim surveys and other studies to gauge how unreported and underreported crimes affect certain cities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com. Reach David Waite at 525-7412 or dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com.