Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha in 2010: What a Difference a Decade Makes
HONOLULU sits down with HPD’s new chief, Louis Kealoha, and takes a look at crime and law enforcement in the city today.
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HM: Are you working more on street-level criminal activity, or are you doing more higher-level investigations into the supply?
LK: You start at the low level, hoping to reach the suppliers. That’s how it works. Usually you have to go in at the bottom. It’s like anything else. You win their trust, and they’ll introduce you to the bigger suppliers. That’s the hope. Wherever we can get in, we’re open to that.
HM: In 2008, HPD cleared 10.5 percent of its property-crime cases. Nationally, in the same time period, the clearance rate was 17.4 percent. What’s holding Honolulu’s police back?
LK: For a lot of the clearance rates, we use the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. [Editor’s note: The UCR Program is a voluntary city, county, state, tribal and federal law-enforcement program that provides a nationwide view of crime based on the submission of statistics by law-enforcement agencies throughout the country.] That’s where these stats are coming from. But everyone reports differently. The thresholds are different for each jurisdiction, as far as what they’re going to report, and I think the reporting methods aren’t consistent. We report everything, while others nationally want to keep a positive image about their city. What we need to look at is how we close cases, and what we are reporting. I think that will improve the percentage.
When you’re investigating these cases, you talk with the complainant, and they can only give you so much information. And then you have to look for leads. If there are no leads, no suspects, it’s challenging. It all depends on how much information you can get. And there are many different types of property crimes. If you also look at the uniform crime reporting, that format is close to 100 years old. So it hasn’t been updated. We have to look at a new way of counting, to adjust for crime today.
Number of officers who have left HPD for other law enforcement agencies, since 1998.
Number of these officers who have since returned to HPD.
HM: With medical marijuana now legal in Hawai‘i, what approach do you take toward enforcing other laws prohibiting marijuana possession? Is it a priority for you?
LK: We act with a sense of urgency. Just because it’s legal in some aspects, it doesn’t mean we’re not taking enforcement action against it. On the Big Island, they’ve ruled that it’s not going to be a priority. [Editor’s note: The Big Island passed a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority of Cannabis Ordinance county law in 2008.] But it’s definitely something that we’ll continue to enforce.
HM: The City Council has been creating laws that target the homeless. What priority have you put on enforcing these new laws? What kind of latitude do you have in policies targeting the homeless?
LK: Our position is that homelessness is not a crime. But whatever laws we have, we’re going to enforce them, whether you’re homeless or just happen to be in a park without a permit. It’s equal enforcement, across the board.
HM: In areas where there are chronic crime and disorder complaints, neighborhood boards around the island have told me it seems that police are turning a blind eye or are simply ineffective at addressing the problems. Is there any way to resolve long-standing issues?
LK: If there’s a chronic problem, we want to take care of it. But a crime is different from a simple public nuisance. If there are repeated complaints about gambling, you can’t just show up and arrest people. The way the criminal justice system works, you have to address all these different requirements to satisfy the law. So it might take a little while. But if it’s a public nuisance—someone’s complaining about a neighbor—you can initially ask that they keep it down. But you have to take it a step further: Are they renting the house, are they the owners of the home? What are the root causes for the noise? You’re not going to cure it overnight. A lot of these problems have a history to them. It’s not like the police can show up, wave a magic wand and make them go away.
Once we identify a chronic problem, we’ll talk to all the different parties. The police alone can’t solve the problem. We have to look to neighborhood boards, the politicians, the other neighbors. We have to work in a partnership with all the stakeholders.
Value of all stolen property on O‘ahu, 2008.
Value of all stolen property recovered, 2008.
HM: The police department often publicizes its commitment to anti-jaywalking and seatbelt campaigns. Couldn’t that time and money be better spent battling more serious crimes?
LK: A lot of the click-it-or-ticket campaigns are federally funded. But pedestrians, seatbelts, things like that, are all important, because we’re trying to save lives. The challenge is how to get our community to take responsibility for its own personal safety. You want to do prevention, communication, reaching out to the communities, but on this more extreme end of the spectrum, you have enforcement. We don’t want to take that route, but pedestrian accidents are up. Look at the fatalities we’ve had recently. It’s because of speeding, kids riding in the back of pickup trucks. So after the prevention and educational programs and all that, you have to follow through with enforcement.
HM: I’m thinking specifically about last [March], when [a fatal shooting and retaliatory stabbing took place between rival drug gangs] in Chinatown. The police stepped up their presence, but local business owners felt that the presence was being misapplied. There were increased patrols in the daytime, ticketing jaywalkers, and not necessarily at night, tackling the criminal activities more related to the murders.
LK: You want a police officer on every street corner, well, this is what’s going to happen. There’s going to be enforcement of all laws. We cannot discriminate between who’s a bad guy and who’s a good guy. We’re going to enforce the law; that’s our job.