LIHUE, Kauai — Kauai police say some property crimes are down sharply as the COVID-19 crisis has taken hold. Domestic abuse cases, however, are on the rise.

The Kauai Police Department is watching the numerical trends closely, scanning the numbers to assess how the island’s social fabric is faring. So far, said Chief Todd Raybuck, it’s too soon to identify any trend one way or the other.

Burglary is down — by a lot — during the COVID-19 crisis. Raybuck says he thinks it’s because people are home more, thus denying opportunities to thieves. And because few tourists are here, rental cars and hotel rooms can’t be broken into.

But in a trend that has raised concerns among law enforcement and other government officials, calls to the Kauai Police Department show that physical and verbal domestic abuse are up since the crisis began. Little change has occurred in the number of assaults unrelated to domestic disputes.

Burglaries are down but domestic violence is creeping up as people stay home to help contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Serious assault is also up, but the numbers are very small. Second-degree assault increased, for example, but from just three to six.

The number of traffic citations is down sharply, suggesting that people are heeding orders from Mayor Derek Kawakami and Gov. David Ige to stay home. Traffic collisions — especially serious ones — have plunged, as well. Serious crashes dropped 41% and crashes in general were down 20% with 135 collisions in February and 95 in March.

Drug arrests and new filings of drug charges are both up — by 42% in the case of bookings related to drug arrests. KPD has redoubled its efforts to drive down drug dealing, said Raybuck, especially after a sitting Kauai County Council member was indicted for running a methamphetamine ring earlier this year.

It is worth noting that anything statistical on Kauai should be read cautiously because of the county’s small population of about 72,000. The number of crimes is small to begin with and month-to-month increases or decreases may or may not accurately reflect long-term trends. For example, while the most serious category of burglary dropped by half in March 2020, the numbers are 22 in 2019 and 11 in 2020.

Kauai Police Department Chief Todd Raybuck. Allan Parachini/Civil Beat

The rise in domestic violence works out to 28 cases in March last year and 36 this year. Verbal domestic abuse cases rose from 80 to 88. The numbers for this story were provided by KPD.

What to make of it falls squarely on the shoulders of Raybuck, who said that the question of whether the social fabric of Kauai is starting to shred “is something we keep asking.”

“What’s important to emphasize,” Raybuck said, “is that it’s too early to know because we’re in a situation where we have never been before with the undue hardship and financial situations of many in our community.”

Police are paying close attention, he said, to developing socioeconomic trends at a time when increasing numbers of people find themselves jobless in an employment market where it was already difficult to make ends meet. Already overcrowded multigenerational households are increasing in size as the employment picture darkens. Higher concentrations of people may result in an uptick in domestic disputes. Incomes are drying up.

In that context, the domestic abuse trend-lines are particularly worrisome to Raybuck. “It is concerning to see the short-term trend,” he said, “because the increase has been consistent in our year-to-year comparisons. They show an increase in all categories (of domestic violence).”

“The most important thing is that we want to let victims know that we are there for them and that there is hope and they are not alone,” said Gina Kaulukukui, KPD’s domestic violence coordinator. The department provides victims with services that range from navigating the process of finding resources to getting a restraining order.

As to crimes like burglary, Raybuck said, “there are a lot of criminal justice theories about crime. One of the theories is that people are home and tourism-related car break-ins are down.”

The First Curfew

Kauai became the first county in the state with a curfew after Kawakami imposed it on March 19. Since then, Honolulu and Maui counties have also imposed curfews.

On Kauai, all residents must remain inside their homes from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. There are several exceptions, including for commuting, going to or from the airport, getting up early to hunt or fish, seeking medical attention, delivering food or holding a job categorized as one of several “essential services.”

As of Tuesday, police had issued 60 citations for curfew violations and violations of a statewide order for people who arrive on Kauai to enter a 14-day quarantine.

Traffic stops and citations have both dropped significantly, with tickets down from 1,008 to 653 compared to a year ago and stops declining from 1,870 to 1,185.

Raybuck observed that “traffic enforcement has not been our priority, which has shifted to protecting our community from COVID-19,” he said. “I don’t want to say we’re not doing traffic stops. There are fewer cars on the road and the stay-at-home order and curfew have reduced this volume.”

According to Raybuck, until KPD began its efforts to enforce the curfew and stay-at-home order, statistics for the entire first quarter of 2020 show KPD’s focus on traffic enforcement had actually grown substantially, with stops up 41% and tickets up 39%.

“I think we can make some assumptions” about recent trends, he said. “Clearly, we have a lot less travel and fewer vehicles are committing violations.”

That doesn’t mean, he said, that KPD is ignoring traffic violations. “Just the other day, driving home, I passed two of our officers with cars pulled over to the side of the highway,” he said.

Raybuck said that KPD’s attention to drug enforcement has not been relaxed in the crisis. “We have remained very focused on that,” he said. “I can assure the community that I’ve heard loud and clear that we have a substance abuse problem on this island and in this state.

“We’re in a situation where we have never been before with the undue hardship and financial situations of many in our community.” — Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck

“To those people who think this is a time to engage in illegal use and sales, you should be taking this opportunity to evaluate what is important and how you can be a productive member of the community. We will continue our efforts to hold people to account who are pushing poison.”

County prosecutor Justin Kollar is familiar with the trends KPD is monitoring. “Anecdotally, I would say we are seeing a slight increase in domestic violence-related cases.” he said. “I have to assume that is a result of the lockdown and associated stressors. I do think the curfew has been effective.”

But as to whether this all means the social fabric has been seriously damaged, Kollar said: “No. Just the opposite.

“I see the social fabric of Kauai getting stronger. People are looking out for one another, like we do every time we are faced with a crisis.”

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