Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Isle project targets
criminals with guns

By Nelson Daranciang

Federal, state and county law enforcement agencies have teamed up to make it tougher for criminals who use guns to get back on the street.

Under Project Safe Neighborhoods-Hawaii, which was unveiled yesterday, the agencies will collaborate on firearms cases to determine whether to charge a defendant under state or federal law to maximize the penalty, said Ed Kubo, U.S. attorney in Hawaii.

"These defendants will come to federal court and they will be removed from our communities and sent to a mainland federal penitentiary so that they lose contact with their associates here. By doing that, we take the criminal element out of our community," Kubo said.

Since February, the U.S. Attorney's Office has accepted 10 cases from county prosecutors, charging them with federal firearm violations.

Already, 30 more cases are under investigation, said Tracy Elders, resident agent-in-charge for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

President Bush unveiled Project Safe Neighborhoods one year ago yesterday.

The ATF is the lead agency in Project Safe Neighborhoods-Hawaii that includes the U.S. Attorney's Office, the state Attorney General's Office, the state Department of Public Safety and all of the county prosecutors and police departments.

Even though Hawaii firearms laws are among the strictest in the nation, under discretionary sentencing, a defendant can be back on the street even before the police officer finishes writing his report, Kubo said.

When a suspect is arrested for violating federal laws, he does not have immediate opportunity for bail as in state courts. When sentenced in federal court, defendants do not have the opportunity for parole or probation as in state courts.

One in 10 violent crimes in Hawaii is committed with a firearm, according to a national crime report. Between 1993 and 1998, there were about 350 crimes committed in Hawaii involving a firearm. In the year 2000, there were 260 crimes involving a firearm.

There are more than 1 million firearms registered to individuals on Oahu, according to statistics compiled by the Honolulu Police Department. An estimated 400 were reported stolen from Honolulu residents between 1997 and 1999.

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