A culmination of community, police and administrative collaboration resulted in the apprehension of almost a dozen people allegedly involved in a rash of burglaries and car crimes in Kona.
Now, cases related to the August-September South Kona crime spree are in the hands of the Hawaii County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.
“We need prosecutors and the courts to follow through and make sure that these guys don’t get back out on the street,” said Mayor Billy Kenoi. “The community did their job, police did their job, now we need the prosecutors to follow through in the courts.”
Lead Prosecuting Attorney Charlene Iboshi said her office would “aggressively” prosecute the cases police have forwarded.
“It’s a very serious crime against a person and it should be treated seriously, and it is treated seriously,” Iboshi said in response to concerns over suspects being quickly “cycled” through the judicial system. “We will look at whatever the police have and we will aggressively prosecute and continue to prosecute.”
In all, 11 people have been arrested or charged in connection with the crime spree. Several of those are facing offenses for hiding fugitives. Though Iboshi pointed to an apparent “correlation” between the drop in crime and police apprehension of the people, who are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, she cautioned that it doesn’t mean burglaries and other crimes have stopped.
A successful prosecution, she said, hinges on a thorough police investigation, which also involves prosecutors to ensure charges can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. She also explained residents can’t expect the crime to be solved, charged and adjudicated the way it happens during a 60-minute episode of “Law and Order.”
“We’ve got one chance at it,” she said about bringing a person to trial because law prohibits trying a person twice on the same crime. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. We want people to be more realistic in their expectations, but not discouraged by it.”
And, while not every offense a person is charged with ends in a conviction, Iboshi emphasized that even one conviction that takes into account several cases during the sentencing phase is adequate. For example, she said, while a person may face charges in five cases, only three of those cases may be strong, which leads prosecutors to seek a plea agreement.
Oftentimes, a plea agreement will be sought, so long as the outcome is the same as if the case had gone to trial. A plea agreement also negates a person’s ability to appeal, resulting in finality for the case.
“Every victim should be recognized,” she explained. “But, many times a plea bargain is a reality because of resources, a quicker resolution and clear definitions and expectations. … So long as the outcome is the same, or better and faster.”
Police Chief Harry Kubojiri said his department had been investigating the uptick in crimes — particularly in South Kona, but also islandwide — for about two weeks prior to a Sept. 11 community meeting. A 20-officer task force was already established and suspects identified before the meeting,but police were having some difficulty apprehending the parties.
The Tuesday evening community meeting attended by about 200 people happened about 24 hours after the police chief was contacted by the mayor’s office. Both Kenoi and Kubojiri said the meeting was spurred by community concerns, including some residents saying they planned to use lethal force, and possible misinformation being spread via social media.
After the meeting, Kubojiri said police received public tips and assistance that helped officers apprehend all those sought. Though the task force has disbanded, the department continues to investigate the spree.
Kubojiri said several times, without being prompted, that he is to blame for not holding a meeting earlier.
“It was a total oversight,” he said. “We were wrapped up, running around chasing them. I am to blame for not letting the community know sooner.”