Honolulu Lite


Monday, October 28, 2002

Top cop thinks ‘Lite’
shoots from the lip

It is with some trepidation that I once again wade into the subject of Honolulu police shootings. Trepidation because I'm flirting seriously with getting more than four columns out of a single idea which may threaten the official national serial columnizing record. I believe my buddy Dave Grimes, of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, whose column inexplicably also appears in this paper, once managed to squeeze out four columns on the subject of manatees. I was in awe and not just a little jealous of this journalistic feat until I realized that in Florida, writing about manatees is probably mandatory. Frankly, if we had manatees in Hawaii - and I don't understand why we don't - I'd write reams about them. And I'd be in less trouble than I am now.

I'm in trouble now because Chief Lee Donohue of the Honolulu Police Department, in a letter to the editor, has publicly demanded an apology from me. Having a chief of police mad at you isn't the same thing as, say, having the head of the Department of Parks and Recreation on your case. While the head of the parks department may control a large number of employees, they are armed with rakes and brooms and, so far as I know, they do not enjoy the power of arrest.

It is the use of guns by police that has landed me in hot water with the chief. I'm getting used to the hot water since it was just last week that I was in hot water with the state judges over the same issue.

The heart of the matter is this: If a criminal pulls a gun on a police officer, that person probably will be shot. The historical record is clear. It's also clear that judges in Hawaii are notoriously lenient on sentencing bad guys to prison.

My point is that it behooves any criminal who comes face to face with a police officer to avail himself of the leniency of the courts instead of shooting it out with the cops. The latter route is something like suicide and as close to an execution as you can get in a state without capital punishment.

The chief's point is that cops are out there to protect the public and they don't execute people. But I meant "execution" in the sense that the criminal is executing himself, not that police are doing anything but what they are supposed to do. I know enough cops, having covered crime and punishment in Hawaii for more than 20 years, to know that police shootings cause as much trauma to the cops and their families as they do to the victims' families.

It's a sensitive subject. And I do apologize if any police officer misconstrued my position. Cops have a right and a duty to meet force with force to protect all of us from violent criminals. The fact that there has been no public outcry concerning any of the police shootings - as has happened in cities on the mainland - shows that the public supports deadly force by cops when appropriate. So do I. There. Now, about those manatees ...

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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