Weeks after Civil Beat reported that the Honolulu Police Department’s rate of solving crimes was at a record low, Honolulu Police Commissioner Doug Chin says he is tired of excuses from HPD leaders who say the data can’t be trusted.

Numbers HPD gives the Hawaii Attorney General and the FBI show that HPD solved only 7% of “index” crimes in 2019, including violent crimes like murder and assault, and property crimes, like arson, burglary and theft.

That’s among the worst clearance rates the department has reported in the 40 years the AG has published reports on it. And it’s well below the national average for cities of similar sizes, according to the FBI.

Congressional Candidate Doug Chin Dem Party Convention.
Honolulu Police Commissioner Doug Chin said he’s heard HPD try to explain away its clearance rate for years. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

After Chief Susan Ballard and Deputy Chief John McCarthy delivered a presentation to the commission on Wednesday indicating the numbers are unreliable, Chin said HPD has delivered the same defenses for years, including when he was the attorney general.

“Ideally, where I’d like to see the department get to is a place where these very long explanations go away,” he said. “All I ever hear from the department is: The reason you can’t trust any of these numbers is because it’s all just garbage in, garbage out.”

McCarthy started to say that the problem is that the federal government’s definitions for crimes don’t match up with Hawaii law, but Chin cut him off.

I’m not asking you to change the federal definitions. What I’m asking the department to do is be able to accurately report what its clearance rate is for these different crimes,” Chin said. “When the public reads these reports, they’re going to want to know, well, what is the reason for it? And if they’re always hearing the system is wrong, that it doesn’t work, that’s going to be a problem.”

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and Deputy Chief John McCarthy indicated the FBI’s numbers aren’t accurate but didn’t provide stats they believe are correct. Screenshot: Honolulu Police Commission livestream

At an October meeting, Chief Susan Ballard told police commissioners that the numbers aren’t as bad as they look. However, she did not provide commissioners with the data she believes is accurate at that meeting.

Two months later, she still has not shared the data with commissioners and has not responded to a public records request from Civil Beat for that information.

However, she did provide some data to Honolulu City Councilman Tommy Waters’ office. Those numbers rely on a reporting system that yields more favorable stats, and yet they still reveal low clearances that aren’t far off from what the FBI reported.

According to the data given to Waters, HPD closed only 30.4% of violent crimes reported in 2019 and less than 6% of property crimes reported in 2019. That’s an overall clearance rate of 7.8% for all 2019 crimes.

The FBI data reported by Civil Beat breaks down to a 25.7% clearance rate for violent crimes, a 5.4% clearance rate for property crimes, and an overall clearance rate of 7%.

The difference is that the data given to Waters’ office is part of the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. That system counts clearances under the year the crime occurred, not the year it was solved. So a robbery that happened in 2017 that was solved in 2020 would count as a clearance for 2017.

Under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, crimes and clearances are both counted in the year they occur. That means that a robbery that happened in 2017 but was solved in 2020 would count as clearance for 2020.

In other words, the UCR system produces data that is static. Once a year ends, the data doesn’t change. Under the NIBRS system, the clearance rates for previous years get better and better as detectives solve old cases. The data given to Waters was up to date as of November.

The FBI is switching over from the UCR system to NIBRS starting in 2021, according to its website.

Chin said that if HPD is still offering the same excuses about its data next year under the NIBRS system, that would be “extremely frustrating.”

Commission Chair Shannon Alivado suggested that HPD put its clearance numbers in its annual report, even if the department uses its own numbers.

“Why can’t it be that simple, so either the public can understand and us as a commission can understand?” she asked. “When we see this type of headline, it feeds off so much, probably, misinformation and negativity toward the department and their ability to clear cases. So I think that’s what we want to avoid, and I think the public deserves it.”

Ballard said the department would consider putting crime and clearance statistics on its website.

“Hopefully that may address some of your concerns,” she said.

Source: Councilman Tommy Waters’ office

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