Honolulu police chief offers plans to curb violence

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Leila Fujimori
Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HONOLULU — Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard offered plans Thursday to address the increase in violent crime and use of firearms in crimes on Oahu, including purse snatchings, while the department is lacking a sufficient number of patrol officers.

Her presentation to the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Welfare came in response to Council Vice Chairwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi’s proposed resolution requesting HPD take immediate action, including departmental restructuring if necessary, to ensure the needed numbers of patrol officers are available for the safety of the public and its front-line officers.

Tsuneyoshi cited the July 28 Honolulu Star-Advertiser article that reported that HPD has been short-staffed for years and had begun cutting services such as investigation into certain felony crimes.

She said that there are often only four patrol officers in some vast districts, and asked what kind of restructuring could be done to address the shortage as well as known crime hot spots.

Ballard said she has been addressing the shortage of officers by using overtime to have officers fill those positions.

HPD spent $10.7 million on patrol officer overtime in 2019, she said.

Ballard said while most violent-crime statistics did not change much, robberies jumped 18% to 952 in 2019 from 807 in 2018.

Purse snatchings, she said, are a type of robbery that is included in those figures.

There was a slight overall increase with 289 purse snatchings in 2019 from 279 in 2018. But in January, HPD saw a rise in purse snatchings that would indicate a significantly higher number for this year, Ballard said.

She said purse snatchings are crimes of opportunity and are often committed by juveniles; groups of friends and not gangs; and the homeless. They “steal cars, cruise, look for easy targets, they hit and away they go,” Ballard said.

The number of violent crimes (homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults) rose 5% to 2,627 in 2019 from 2,494 in 2018.

The use of guns in robberies alone jumped 45% in 2019 from the previous year and increased 21% when it came to all types of cases.

Ballard said there is a trend in the use of “80% guns.” (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives describes “80%” or “unfinished” receivers as items that some believe have not yet reached a stage of manufacture that meets the definition of “firearm frame” or “receiver.”)

Firearms that began as receiver blanks have been recovered after shooting incidents, from gang members and from prohibited people, after they have been used to commit crimes, ATF says on its website.

Ballard said HPD had 60 guns registered in December alone that fell into the “80% guns” category.

“How many are not registered?” she asked. She said all that is needed to buy one is a credit card and an address.

Ballard said she and others in the department have been “wracking our brains,” looking for ways to improve how HPD does things.

She said HPD needs “to be smart in analyzing” crimes, including identifying repeat offenders, looking for patterns as to where and when crimes are occurring, and marshaling resources to attack them.

“We used to use push pins,” Ballard said. She said detectives investigate individual crimes but often operate in silos.

These are proposals HPD offered to address crime:

  • Hire crime analysts in every division to look for trends, patterns and suspects they have in common.
  • Use auto license plate readers to be able to find stolen cars and stop crimes from happening.
  • Confiscate unregistered bicycles, which are often used to commit crimes.
  • Increase community policing to provide safety tips to residents and visitors.
  • Create a real-time crime center with monitors fed from surveillance cameras in hot spots, instead of having a police officer parked at high-crime areas.

Proposals to address officer shortage:

  • Hire more civilians to do civilian jobs, releasing uniformed officers for policing.
  • Increase salaries for Honolulu police only, creating a city differential for HPD.
  • Create an extension of the HPD cadet program for ages 18-21, hiring them for administrative tasks before they can qualify to become an officer at age 21.

Ballard said HPD human resources has taken over the hiring of dispatchers and police officers from the city, reducing hiring time to four months from 18 months from application to offer of a position.