Oahu thefts up 10%; rapes also up, as overall crime rises 4.6%
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
Property crime in Honolulu increased 5 percent in 2009, ending a six-year streak of declining offenses in the category. Authorities said the increase is disappointing, but probably won't jeopardize Honolulu's standing as the nation's safest large city.
The spike in property crimes, coupled with a 1.5 percent decline in violent crimes, left Honolulu with an overall increase in crime of 4.6 percent, FBI figures show.
At the same time, the FBI said crime fell nationally in 2009.
In Honolulu, thefts drove the increase in property crime — shooting up 10 percent in 2009, from 21,473 to 23,647. Meanwhile, auto thefts and burglaries were down about 5 percent. Among violent crimes, murders, robberies and assaults decreased, while the number of rapes reported increased by 40 to 243.
Law enforcement officials said it's tough to pinpoint what's behind the increase in property crime, and said they haven't done enough analysis to be able to blame the spike on the economic downturn. It's also difficult to say that's the only factor involved, because property and violent crimes fell nationwide despite the recession.
Nationally, violent crime dropped 5.5 percent in 2009.
Property crime declined by 4.9 percent.
Honolulu city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said yesterday the motive behind property crime isn't always clear. Some criminals are desperate for cash to buy food or take care of their families, while others are looking for money to buy drugs.
He added that the economic downturn — and its possible effects on crime — continue to be a concern, especially because economic recovery is likely to take years.
"There are a whole lot of people running around without jobs," he said.
Carlisle said that despite the increase in property crime last year from 2008, the total is still down when compared with 2007. "It's still extremely low and I'm convinced we'll still be the safest large city in the United States," he said.
Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha agreed, and said he's happy to see violent crime continue to be on a downward trend. In a statement, he said that property crime "in general can be difficult to investigate and we need the community to be our eyes and ears and to report suspicious activity and be good witnesses."
It appears many communities are doing just that.
In Mānoa, a spate of brazen burglaries in 2009 spurred residents to form neighborhood security watch groups that worked together to tackle crime.
John Kim, Mānoa Neighborhood Board chairman, said the patrols helped.
"It (crime) has tapered off," he said.
Patrols also are active in Chinatown, where residents say things appear to be quieter than they have been in years. "We're actually not seeing much of anything," said Dolores Mollring of the Downtown/Chinatown Citizens Patrol.
"It's been very quiet," she added.
That's heartening news to authorities, who hope the spike in property crimes last year was a blip — and not the start of a new trend. Officials couldn't say yesterday whether crime is still on the rise, because they didn't have tallies available.
Last year, the FBI said, there were 33,375 property crimes in Honolulu (which includes all of O'ahu), compared with 31,781 in 2008 and 38,310 the year before. The last time there was a year-over-year increase in property crime was in 2002, when 54,670 offenses were reported. In 2001 there were 45,989 property crimes.
Meanwhile, the FBI figures show there were 2,537 violent crimes reported in 2009 — down from 2,575 the year before. Last year was the sixth consecutive year violent crime in Honolulu declined. The decade high was in 2000, with 2,954 offenses.
The violent crime reported in 2009 included the increase in the number of rapes, but declines in every other category, including 14 murders (down from 18 in 2008), 1,411 aggravated assaults (from 1,426), and 869 robberies (from 928).