Oahu crime spike evident as count of violent incidents soars

Always Investigating

A spike in violent crime has rattled Oahu. Police are tight-lipped about why, and how they’ll crack down, but many are calling for a change, and fast. Always Investigating compiled crime trend data and reports are on a sharp rise, especially violent robbery incidents.

Crime statistics are officially disclosed only once a year, so police tell us it’s too soon to say there’s any rise in crime. So Always Investigating tracked incidents week by week using the Honolulu Police Departments own crime-mapping data and found a huge rise, particularly for violent crimes.

It seems a day doesn’t go by lately that a car jacking, purse snatching or robbery makes the news on Oahu, sometimes more than one in a day. We see the videos. We get the pleas for tips from Crimestoppers. We hear the painful recollections from injured victims.

“Six robberies in Waikiki in November and an armed robbery in Hawaii Kai,” says Honolulu City Councilmember Tommy Waters, recounting recent incidents in his district. “I mean, not acceptable, not acceptable, and not the norm.”

Statistics for this year as a whole won’t be out until fall of 2020, so police say there’s no official overall rise in crime. But Always Investigating analyzed the numbers using HPD’s crime-mapping tool and we found total crime reports are soaring, up about 16 percent since earlier this fall. There are sometimes hundreds of more calls a week than earlier in the year.

Among those reports, robberies are up as much as 52 percent — from a low in the 50-count and 60-count range per four-week period earlier this year, to 79 robberies in the most recent four-week period.

“Other than murder, robbery is really bad. It’s violent. It’s bad,” Waters said. “I plan to meet with HPD and talk about that and see what’s going on from their perspective, because clearly there is a spike, there is a spike in crime, and what’s causing this?”

Always Investigating has asked HPD about what we found. A spokesperson said they’re still analyzing and will respond later, so I also went to the mayor.

“This is not Honolulu,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell tells says. “It wasn’t Honolulu a year ago.”

Always Investigating asked Caldwell: When you see these recent trends, what do you want done in this city about it?

“We’re all very concerned here in the City and County of Honolulu,” Caldwell said. “The Honolulu Police Department — and I’ve talked to the chief about this — they are actually really trying to find whose doing this. They know it’s not just random different people doing it, that there are people that know it works and they’re doing it repeatedly.”

He says HPD is focusing resources on cracking down.

“They’re out there, and they’re going to get these guys,” Caldwell said. “They’re following what they’re doing and they’re putting together a profile, and hopefully they’ll catch them in the near future — like today if they could.”

Honolulu police last month told us they’ve noticed a 20 percent increase in crimes involving firearms.

An FBI spokesperson says they will get directly involved if there is a federal nexus such as gangs and interstate crime networks, or things like trafficking of illegal guns.

“The FBI is tracking and is aware of these crimes,” the agency spokesperson said. “We will continue to monitor this activity and work with our local partners to provide expertise and resources to combat these issues.”

“They’re hot on their trails, and I think working not only with our law enforcement but law enforcement on the federal level that we’re going to get these guys,” Caldwell said. “I want to get these guys.”

The state Attorney General’s office has a Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance division that usually focuses on precautions against things like cyber-crimes, underage drinking, or fraud against the elderly.

“The difficulty with violent crimes is that overwhelming use of force is something that is challenging to train against,” the A.G.’s spokesperson told Always Investigating. “Of course, if there is a prolonged rise in the frequency of such crimes, our office would examine if there is an appropriate role for us.”

Both the mayor and city councilmembers say HPD needs to fill 250 vacancies now and get ahead of the game for 2,100 positions eligible for retirement. About 50 vacancies have been filled since HPD Chief Susan Ballard took over the department, and a range of new recruiting ideas are being pursued.

“We do know more patrols on the ground walking around will help prevent crime from occurring because criminals don’t want to go where the police officers are,” Caldwell said. “Part of it is about getting more money in their budget and helping them hire more people.”

“Our job on the city council is to find out what they need, what tools they need and whether or not we can help them as far as budgeting and recruiting more officers,” Waters said. “I really believe that when there’s not enough police officers on the street crime rises.”

Always Investigating asked Waters, if people are being robbed now violently, carjacked now violently, the solution can’t wait until the next budget session; what can be done sooner?

“Our crime reduction unit is a really important unit and I’d like to see them come out in Waikiki, out in our district, have their presence known to tell the criminals that they can’t be out there,” Waters said.

In response to the violent crime wave, East Oahu area representatives are holding a crime-and-safety town hall meeting, this Thursday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m. at Hahaione Elementary. HPD has been invited to address the community there.

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