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Monday, October 20, 2014         

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Homicides push Oahu tally to 18

Honolulu's violent crime rate is still much lower than in similar mainland cities, a police official and experts say

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

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The recent slew of Oahu homicides has pushed the Honolulu Police Department's count to 18 so far this year.

That is more than the 12-month totals in each of the last five years except 2007, when there were 19 homicides for the year.

But a police official and other Hawaii crime experts said Oahu residents should not be overly alarmed by the numbers.

"Honolulu has the lowest violent crime rate of any major city in the United States, a statistic that we do not take for granted," said Maj. Richard Robinson, who heads HPD's Criminal Investigations Division, in an e-mail response.

The most recent violent death on Oahu classified as murder occurred in connection with an early morning fight in front of Club Saigon Passion III on Sunday. The victim, Christopher Myers, was an Army sergeant and father of three.

The death of Waikiki stabbing victim 38-year-old Earl Grant III on Wednesday was classified by police yesterday as self-defense.

Ron Becker, a professor of criminal justice at Chaminade University, said murders are situational crimes. "Most people don't plan to commit the crime," he said, making it difficult to identify trends.

Becker pointed out that murder rates here are typically much lower than in most mainland cities, and especially those of comparable size that have economies that are tourism-based like Honolulu.

For metropolitan counties with populations of 100,000 or more, the rate of murder and non-negligent manslaughter was 4.2 per 100,000 in 2009, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

In Honolulu the 2009 murder rate was 1.54 per 100,000, less than half the national average for municipalities with populations of 100,000 or more. Meanwhile, San Diego had a murder rate of 3.11 per 100,000, and San Jose's was 2.93 per 100,000. Las Vegas reported a murder rate of 8.05 per 100,000.

"There isn't any population-comparable city that has the kind of UCR statistics that we have," Becker said. "Now if you report these statistics out of context, people will say, 'Oh my God, Hawaii doesn't look like a very safe place to stay.' But when you report in context with comparable cities, you'll recognize we're far and away safer than anywhere else in the United States to live, comparably speaking."

Paul Perrone, chief of research for the state Attorney General's office, said murder statistics in the 2000s are also significantly lower than in any other period since the state began compiling such statistics in 1975. The 14 recorded last year were the lowest in that time, he said.

"The numbers traditionally hovered in the mid-40s to mid-50s (per year) through most of the '80s and '90s," Perrone said, noting that "even those numbers are very low compared to virtually any other major metropolitan area in the United States."

The record high was 84 in either 1980 or 1981, he said.

The numbers plummeted to the teens and 20s per year in the late 1990s. "We're certainly in an area of very, very few murders," he said.

The drop in murders has also occurred while population has increased, he said.

Perrone also pointed out that there were many more murders connected to organized crime in the 1970s and 1980s than there are now.

There have been several high-profile domestic violence cases in the last month. On Aug. 20 a man shot and killed his estranged girlfriend and her daughter before turning the gun on himself in Makiki. Last Saturday a man stabbed to death his girlfriend, who had just moved out on him, in Kaneohe. He later leaped to his death off the H-3 freeway.

Seven of the 18 murders recorded so far this year could be characterized as acts of domestic violence, according to statistics compiled by the Domestic Violence Action Center.

But as with overall murder numbers, it is hard to see any patterns. In 2009 two of the 14 murders on Oahu were domestic violence homicides; in 2008 it was nine out of 18, and in 2007 it was four out of 19, said Nanci Kreidman, the nonprofit's executive director. In 2006 three out of 17 were domestic violence homicides; in 2005 it was two out of 15; in 2004 it was three out of 15; in 2003 it was two out of 15; in 2002 it was four out of 18; in 2001 it was six out of 20; and in 2000 it was five out of 20.

Kreidman said data suggest that both in Hawaii and nationwide, the number of murders committed by women against men has dropped. "It used to be when (female victims of domestic abuse) didn't have options or were threatened with death, they would have to kill in self-defense," she said. "But they have options now. So although the deaths of women have not gone down as much as they could, deaths of men have gone down."

Despite those numbers, however, in a majority of homicide cases, "there is some kind of relationship between the victim and suspect," said HPD's Robinson. "Relatively few cases are random, street-type crime."

He stressed that "every homicide is a tragic loss that deeply affects the victim's relatives and friends, and HPD is committed to thoroughly and relentlessly investigating each case."

Because there is no statute of limitations on homicide, Robinson urged anyone with information on any homicides to inform police, "even if the information is received years later."





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