HPD unable to solve 90% of felonies in '04
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
More than 90 percent of felony crimes in Honolulu went unsolved last year as the police department's success rate dipped to the second lowest point in almost three decades, statistics released by police show.
Honolulu police cleared about 4,500 cases of the more than 46,000 major crimes reported, for a clearance rate of 9.6 percent, the second lowest since 1975, when the data were first gathered, according to HPD's 2004 annual report.
The figure is lower than the average national clearance rate of 15.1 percent for cities with populations between 500,000 and 999,000, according to the FBI's Crime in The United States 2004. In addition, clearance rates fell in six of seven felony categories last year.
A police spokeswoman said HPD officials familiar with the issues were unavailable yesterday for comment.
According to HPD's annual report, police cleared burglaries at the lowest rate, followed by car theft, larceny theft, robbery, aggravated assault, rape and murders.
Overall, Honolulu police solved property crimes at a rate of 8.3 percent and violent crimes at a rate of 32.5 percent.
Both figures were slightly below the national average of 34.8 percent for violent crimes and 11.4 percent for property crimes in Mainland cities of comparable size, according to the 2004 FBI report.
The low clearance rates mean property owners very rarely get their belongings back, or have the satisfaction of seeing someone pay for the crimes.
Cruz Vina Jr., a retired shipyard worker who moved to a townhouse in Waiau from Kalihi in 1976, recently installed a car alarm and a home security system after thieves stole his bike and broke into his car last year. He never recovered his bike or a wallet taken from his car.
"The thefts in this area (have) grown tremendously," he said. "I moved from Kalihi and when I first moved here it was quiet. But we're starting to populate this side and I guess the thieves move accordingly."
Paul Perrone, the chief statistician for the state attorney general's office, said the clearance rate measures the police department's success but cautioned that it must be put into the proper context.
"In the broadest and coarsest sense, sure (it's a success rate). It doesn't tell the whole story and you have to see why it (the clearance rate) is this way," he said yesterday. "But if I were a police chief, of course I would be concerned. I would be particularly concerned about a trend of especially low clearance rates and I would be extremely interested in accounting for why the statistics appear the way they do."
The types of crime and criminals facing the community, changes in police resources, the likelihood of victims reporting lower-level crimes, or even something as simple as record-keeping could all influence clearance rates, he said.
In the past, police officials have said that property offenses, which accounted for more than 93 percent of the crimes last year, are harder to solve because often there are no witnesses.
An offense is cleared if it is resolved by arrest or by exceptional means. These occur in cases in which the offender is known, but for reasons outside the control of law enforcement, the offender cannot be arrested, charged and prosecuted. Examples include the death of a suspect, or the refusal of another jurisdiction to extradite a suspect.
One factor that does not seem to play a role in clearance rates is manpower.
For the past several years police officials have been battling a shrinking budget and patrol staffing levels that hover at about 80 percent.
But in 1998 when police were solving crimes at the highest rate in the past decade, 16.9 percent, the department employed almost 200 fewer officers than in 2001, when the clearance rate was a record low.
Reach Peter Boylan at email@example.com.