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On Oahu, there is a growing sense that things are spiraling out of control. As if traffic, homelessness, dirty public spaces and climate change were not enough, one can now add a wave of violent crimes and robberies to the challenges we face.
From purse snatchings and pistol whippings in Waikiki, to gun battles in Kapolei, to Molotov cocktails in Kalihi and car jackings in Hawaii Kai, one must be especially mindful of their personal property and surroundings around Oahu.
While the Honolulu Police Department has assured the public that there is no overall increase in crime, the brazen and spectacular way that recent crimes have manifested sure don’t feel like things are business as usual.
When it comes to personal safety, Hawaii laws leave residents and visitors alike dependent on a proactive law enforcement presence. State laws that govern the use of deadly force as a means of self-defense, have been interpreted to mean that in Hawaii, “deadly force is … denied when the actor can avoid using it with complete safety by retreating, by surrendering possession of a thing to a person asserting claim of right to it, or by complying with a demand that he refrain from taking an action which he has no legal duty to take.” In any of these cases, the Code may seem to be opting for cowardice.
And though law-abiding firearms owners might wish to exercise their Second Amendment rights to carry a gun in public as a deterrent against a would-be attacker, people who have repeatedly applied for permits in Honolulu have been met with denials.
Said another way, when trouble comes, you better hope there’s a cop nearby.
Unfortunately, between short staffing of Honolulu police officers and increasingly opportunistic criminals, the rule of law isn’t working well on Oahu. This is dangerous, because not only does it have the effect of creating a bad reputation among tourists it entrenches the perception that one can get away with a crime because the government is blind or incompetent.
As it is, there are already some who feel so confident that they will not be met with resistance that some groups have even stormed government offices. In 2017 when the FBI arrested a Waipahu man who had pledged allegiance to the ISIS terror caliphate and was plotting to attack Waikiki, local residents got a chilling teaser of just how potentially vulnerable and open our state is to violence.
If we as citizens are going to be forced to seek safety under the deterrence of security theater, then city government needs to do a better job of putting on a show of force for our benefit. As cynical as that may sound, if we are expected to depend primarily on police for safety and security, then police need to be a conspicuous and significant presence on our streets to protect the people.
I admit that it is an inescapable part of Hawaii culture to be hospitable, welcoming and connected to others. Our “e komo mai” approach to humanity is what makes us a model culture to the world, but it is also being twisted and exploited against us in these times of economic desperation and growing violence. The openness that was meant to make us feel welcome is now being exploited by evil to make us unsafe. We need to get serious about protecting our people and fighting crime.
We need to get serious about restoring order and the rule of law in these islands.
So what would leadership in this area look like?
To begin, the Honolulu mayor and City Council need to hold a joint press conference with the Honolulu police behind them and they need to acknowledge there is a violent crime problem and that they intend to do something about it.
Knowing that any action in this area will ultimately cost money, the city should be prepared to ask the Legislature for some kind of assistance in funding or grants to help beef up the police presence in Honolulu.
The existing Honolulu police force needs to engage in an immediate “surge strategy” where noticeably larger numbers of officers and vehicles are seen in places where assaults have been on the rise and also in places where tourists frequent.
For the benefit of the community, training demonstrations should be announced in plain view of the public where police are seen diffusing a simulated armed robbery or attack, so that the people can be assured that threats can be handled quickly and professionally.
Similar to how major cities like Washington, D.C., or London have heavily equipped officers simply walking the streets for sheer visibility, Honolulu should do the same.
Citizen volunteers should also be organized and trained by the city in things like how to be mindful of safety in public, how to spot suspicious behavior and how to engage in habits that deter crime, as a means for increasing the overall alertness of the population.
In addition to this, private establishments such as shopping malls, restaurants and hotels should also consider doing their part to enhance the safety of those on and around their premises with more security. We need to see and feel as if there is someone there to intervene when trouble comes.
We need to get serious about restoring order and the rule of law in these islands. If government can’t keep us safe, then we have a failed government.
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