Crime hits record low

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HILO — Crime hit a record low level in Hawaii in 2016.

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HILO — Crime hit a record low level in Hawaii in 2016.

That’s according to the state’s annual report, “Crime in Hawaii, 2016.”

A total of 45,805 so-called “index crimes” were reported statewide, a rate of 3,206 offenses per 100,000 resident population, the report said. That’s the lowest rate on record since statewide data collection from the counties’ police departments began by the Department of the Attorney General in 1975.

“Honolulu is the only county that did not report a record low crime rate,” Paul Perrone, the AG’s chief of Research and Statistics, said Thursday. “But they did reach that point in 2012, and this is … just a sliver above that. And each county had some real success stories. The thing that really stood out to me is that there are no record highs. These are all record lows. And it’s all across the state. Records have been broken before. But I’ve never seen this many broken, all in one direction, all across the state.”

Index crimes are divided into two categories: violent crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery, assault and human trafficking; and property crimes, which includes burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

In Hawaii County, the index crime level decreased 24.1 percent and the property crime level decreased 26.5 percent from the levels reported in 2015 to reach the record low levels. The burglary rate also hit a record low in 2016.

The overall decline of the crime rate on Hawaii Island occurred despite a 16.9 percent increase in violent crime in 2016 over the previous year. Last year’s violent crime rate, however, was lower than the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

“Crime rates have been falling pretty steadily in Hawaii since 2008 or so,” Perrone said. “Crime rates have been historically low throughout the 2000s. And 2016 marked the year where three of four counties reached a record low, including Hawaii County. Violent crime rates in Hawaii are always very low compared to the nation as a whole. It’s with property crime rates that we traditionally struggle.”

All indexed property crimes were down on the Big Island in 2016 except arson, which had 10 more reports, 41, than in 2016. Burglary reports were down from 1,061 to 823, larceny-theft reports decreased from 4,725 to 3,580, and motor vehicle theft took a dramatic drop in 2016, from 909 to 525.

“Anytime there is a reduction in crime, we consider it good news and an indication that our strategies and efforts are working,” said Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares. “We utilize all statistics, including this report recently released by the Department of the Attorney General as well as monthly crime reports, as part of our process to evaluate crime trends, our response to those trends, and to identify areas we need to improve.”

The Hawaii Police Department’s monthly crime reports led them to the conclusion that, so far this year, there has been what a July 11 police statement describes as “an alarming number of auto thefts.” The department organized and deployed a task force to address that problem. Police said on Aug. 15 that investigations by the task force had “led to the arrest of 27 suspects on a wide variety of offenses.”

Perrone said the numbers are in contrast to a widely held public perception that crime is at an all-time high.

“Studies have been done on this, and it’s interesting,” he said. “People don’t often have knowledge or an opinion on other social indicators, but always have some knowledge, and definitely an opinion, on crime and justice-related issues. And it’s typical for any sort of people, anyplace, at any time, to believe — regardless of what the actual fact of the matter is — that crime today is higher today than it was prior, and it’s only going to get worse. … And it’s so often not true.”

According to Perrone, that perception often is shaped by media reports.

“The media plays a really important role in all issues that get covered in the media. But with crime, and you know the famous quote, as most people do, ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’” he said. “… And it’s certainly the case with crime statistics, as well. If this report said crime is at an all-time high level, that would be a banner headline everywhere. There would be press conferences and people scrambling around to interview folks. … And it will be interesting to see how much coverage this (report) receives, now that you have crime at an all-time low point.”

Perrone said he did find an anomaly in his analysis of the state’s crime numbers.

“For the counties, particularly, each year there’s something that’s a record high or record low, except this year,” he said. “There are no record highs. Nothing. It would be more common to see … a year in which it’s a record low crime rate, record low property crime rate, whatever you have. And then, for some reason, you have a record high larceny-theft rate or record high motor vehicle theft rate. There’s always something that goes in the opposite direction. There’s never any real explanation for it; it’s just statistical probability. Except this year. … I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”

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For Attorney General Douglas Chin, the report is more than just good news.

“The record low crime statistics in 2016 highlight the outstanding work of law enforcement throughout the state and in all four counties,” Chin said in a statement. “These numbers also help refute the false narrative from President Trump’s administration that crime in our country is at an all-time high.”

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