Police Chief Harry S. Kubojiri gave an overview of crime and traffic trends in Hawaii County on Tuesday to members of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce.
Kubojiri’s “snapshot of where we are in Hawaii County” reviewed crime statistics from 2008 through 2012.
Last year’s 26 armed robberies, for example, were the most in five years, 82 percent higher than average. However, that included cases in which the perpetrators used force while attempting to escape security guards in shoplifting cases, or who violently wrenched bags from women trying to hang on to them in purse-snatching cases. “They’re not always a ‘stick-’em-up’ bank robbery,” Kubojiri said. Otherwise, the number of reported robberies has been pretty stable over the five-year period, he said.
Homicides doubled over the five-year period from three in 2008 to six last year, and the chief alluded to the spate of six killings already committed in 2013. Most of the murders over the past five years were domestic cases, he noted.
Assaults declined steadily from a high of 2,251 in 2008 to 1,836 in 2011, then climbed again last year to 1,958.
Cases of abuse of a family member held steady for four years but dropped 21 percent to 813 incidents last year. Kubojiri cautioned that these are only the reported incidents.
“A huge number goes unreported,” he said.
Sex assaults dropped substantially in 2009 and 2011, but shot back up to 308 in 2012, just shy of 315 reported sex assaults in 2008. Again, he said, as with family abuse cases, sexual assaults are under-reported.
In terms of drug crimes, heroin isn’t talked about much any more in media and social circles, he said, though it was “at one time the most evil drug out there.” Twenty arrests and 24 cases involved heroin in 2012, contrasted with 19 arrests and 35 cases in 2012. But the amount of heroin seized in 2012 skyrocketed to 604 grams, up from less than 70 grams in 2008, and 1.5 grams in 2011.
While cocaine cases, arrests and seizures have dropped substantially since 2008, methamphetamine has taken heroin’s place as the “most evil” drug in the county, Kubojiri said.
A five-year high of 4,045 grams of methamphetamine were seized last year, while 152 arrests were made for the drug last year, which was slightly higher than the five-year average of 144. The number of methamphetamine cases initiated last year, 268, was down 9 percent from the five-year average.
Kubojiri said the amount of methamphetamine seized in 2010 and 2011 was significantly lower than in the previous two years because police “took out a major distributor.”
However, basic economics will bring new distributors into the market, he said. The drug is cheap to purchase on the mainland and dealers can make “tons of money” here, especially because it’s highly addictive.
Marijuana arrests have remained stable at an average of just under 400 over the five-year period, though the number of plants seized in 2012 — 29,740 — was 59 percent higher than the average over the five-year period.
The County of Hawaii no longer accepts federal funding for aerial marijuana eradication pursuant to a 2008 ordinance making adult personal use of marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority for county police.
“The funding formerly used to investigate commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution was tied to those same federal funds, thus limiting the resources and tools to effectively target commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana,” according to one of the slides in Kubojiri’s presentation. Meanwhile, the department “continues to research and develop new ways to solve the problem of commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana,” Kubojiri said.
“We’re looking at people doing it for profit, with hundreds, thousands of plants,” he said. “People selling it for money, that’s who we’re targeting.”
But someone pulled over for a traffic stop who has marijuana in the car will not escape arrest because of the lowest enforcement priority law, he said. “They still have to answer for that marijuana.”
There is still marijuana eradication being conducted by state Narcotics Enforcement Division and the county police assist the state’s efforts, Kubojiri said. “Yes, we participate in those missions. We can lead them to the right areas.” The county department’s certified rappellers also help rig the state helicopters, and county personnel lend their experience to the state in spotting marijuana from the air.
Kubojiri said the newest drug use trend is synthetic marijuana and cocaine — often known as “K2,” “Spice” or “White Bull.” It is packaged as “bath salt” products and is often sold in legal retail outlets as “herbal incense” or “plant food” and which don’t show up on most drug tests. The drug is often packaged to lure younger users and has violent side effects, he said.
“We have not had the opportunity to to arrest someone” for these drugs, however, he noted.
Turning to traffic, the Kubojiri showed slides showing that fatalities in the county ranged from 22 to 27 from 2008 to 2011, then increased last year to 38.
Use of multiple drugs including alcohol, cannabis, methamphetamine, cocaine, and pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs were involved in most of the fatal wrecks.
“It’s driving impaired — period — that has contributed to a lot of the deaths,” he said. “Everybody knows about alcohol, but the pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs are out there, too. The deaths on our roadways can be prevented.”
“Fatalities were inordinately high last year,” he noted, and this year so far there have been eight traffic fatalities compared to four at this same time last year.
Kubojiri made a plea for more resources, especially intervention and treatment programs for drug use and violence.
Asked about gun control, he said Hawaii has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, and that the Police Department supports responsible gun ownership. “Criminals will always be able to get guns,” he said.