As life on Oahu returns to relative normalcy with the lifting of pandemic restrictions, so have the rates of violence and property crimes, with car thefts and homicides at new highs.

Data from the Honolulu Police Department shows that the number of serious crimes reported so far this year is similar to the number reported in the years before shutdowns and other coronavirus prevention measures were implemented in March 2020.

As of April 30, 13 homicides were reported to police, including a string of high-profile attacks that have raised pressure on the HPD, the police union and the Honolulu prosecutor to take action.

By comparison, six homicides were reported during the same time period last year, eight in 2020 and three in 2019, five in 2018 and seven in 2017, according to data obtained by Civil Beat.

HPD Honolulu Police officers patrol along Kalakaua Avenue during COVID-19 pandemic. October 28, 2020
Honolulu Police Department data shows crime bouncing back from a pandemic decline. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The increase in guns and other weapons used to commit crimes coupled with post-pandemic economic woes have contributed to the rise in violent crime, which also coincides with staffing shortages within the police department.

The killings included a deadly shootout in Waianae, a man whose body was found encased in concrete in his Hawaii Loa Ridge home and a man who beat a woman with a tree trunk shortly after he was released from the Kapolei police station for assaulting a police officer.

There have also been a spate of high-profile violent incidents in Waikiki including robberies, stabbings, and a fatal shooting.

So far this year, at least one homicide has been reported in all of HPD’s eight police districts. District 8, which includes Waianae, Makaha and Kapolei, had the most, with four.

There had not been a homicide reported in all eight districts in at least the last five years for the same four months.

“Our community is suffering through a steady increase in rising crime, specifically violent crime.” — SHOPO President Robert Cavaco

HPD also provided Honolulu City Council data late last month showing a more than 42% increase in crimes involving guns, knives or other weapons compared to last year.

That number has continued to rise since 2017, according to statistics the department presented to council members.

“That may be a shift,” Meda Chesney-Lind, a criminologist and professor at the University of Hawaii, said in an interview. “Unfortunately, when you have guns involved in (an) assault, you’re going to have more murders.”

The Honolulu Police Department did not respond to a request for comment about the increase in crime.

HPD data also showed that 1,500 auto thefts were reported in the first four months of this year, nearly triple the number from the same period in 2017, when 581 vehicles were stolen.

Chesney-Lind pointed to an ongoing vehicle shortage as a potential reason for the rise in stolen cars. The problem has been blamed on a computer chip shortage and supply chain issues that are exacerbated by the Pacific island’s geographic limitations.

“You have individuals who want vehicles and, especially people in more marginalized economic situations, they might have been able in the past to find a used car,” Chesney-Lind said. “So then, once you have that kind of shift, then you can’t be surprised to discover that auto thefts have increased.”

Meanwhile, other crime on Oahu has largely returned to the rate at which it was occurring before the pandemic forced people off the streets and into their homes.

The HPD data shows that 90 rapes were reported through the end of last month compared to 64 at the same time last year. However, that is a slight decline from the 93 rapes reported in the same period in 2019.

Aggravated assaults show a similar trend as 410 were reported to HPD by April 30 compared to 347 during the previous year. The number of aggravated assaults reported this year is higher than the 382 reported in the first four months of 2019, but on par with the 430 and 405 aggravated assaults reported in 2018 and 2017 respectively during the same time period.

The bulk of aggravated assaults reported this year occurred in West Oahu, Downtown, Chinatown, Kalihi and Moanalua, according to the HPD data.

Robberies slightly increased with 325 so far this year compared to 306 in the first four months of 2019. More than a third of the robberies this year occurred in Downtown Honolulu or Chinatown.

Meanwhile, the number of burglaries, larcenies and arson reported to HPD has actually fallen during the first four months this year compared to the same period last year.

“There’s good news here,” Chesney-Lind said. “Despite some shifts that are troubling, when we look at the overall numbers, we’re still dealing with essentially the same crime problem we (have) had for quite a while.”

“It’s up a little bit, but not completely out of control,” she said.

However, the police union gave a different assessment of the severity of the problem, noting that the uptick in crime comes at a time when HPD has hundreds of officer vacancies.

“Our community is suffering through a steady increase in rising crime, specifically violent crime,” SHOPO President Robert Cavaco said. “All of this is occurring while we are over 300 officers short, limiting our ability to handle calls for service, let alone do special enforcement to address these serious crimes harming our community.”

“These are serious problems, and we need bold and determined action to address them before they grow even worse,” he added.

The Honolulu Police Department is expected to present this year’s crime statistics to the Honolulu Police Commission during Thursday’s meeting, according to the agenda posted on the commission’s website.

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