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Monday, March 10, 2003



Police advocate
longer prison terms
for habitual felons

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By Jaymes Song
Associated Press

Police officers being threatened, assaulted or shot at was almost unheard of when Charles Chai joined the Hawaii County Police Department 27 years ago.

"Today, we have suspects racing away at high speed. We have them shooting at policemen. We have them bumping into the policeman's car trying to run them over," said Chai, now an assistant police chief on the Big Island.

"They're just more violent. A lot of them are intoxicated on some kind of drug," he said. "That's what makes the police job more unsafe today."

In the aftermath of the killing of a Honolulu police officer, Hawaii's four county police chiefs are again calling for tougher laws against career criminals. They also want more resources to battle the growing crystal methamphetamine problem and better pay for officers who work in an increasingly violent society -- some of the issues they will address during a scheduled meeting tomorrow at the Capitol with Gov. Linda Lingle.

The shooting death of Honolulu Police Officer Glen Gaspar inside a West Oahu ice cream parlor last week was a jolting reminder of the risks officers face every day and the need for stiffer penalties for repeat felons, police officials said.

"In every seemingly innocent situation you go into, it can turn ugly real quick," said Maui Police Chief Thomas Phillips. "When that guy came into that store and if he pulled a gun, everybody else can run. Policemen can't run. They have to run to the danger, and they know when they do that, they're putting their lives on the line."

The man charged with first-degree murder in Gaspar's slaying, 28-year-old Shane Mark, had 14 prior convictions including four felonies. He was released from prison in November. Preliminary tests revealed Mark was under the influence of several illegal drugs, including crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," at the time of the shooting.

"There's certain people that shouldn't be out in the community," Phillips said. "What people fear is loading up our prisons -- and it's expensive -- but we spend a lot more money when they're out in the community, in terms of the number of crimes they commit and the damage they do to the community. We pay too much for that."

Lingle said Gaspar's death demonstrates how serious the drug problem is in the islands.

"Drugs are affecting people every single day, not always as dramatically as this, but it's affecting families all across the state," she said.

Hawaii's drug problem is not limited to the cities.

"I am aware of reports that show that even in quiet, peaceful Kauai, the drug situation is increasing and getting worse," said Kauai Police Chief George Freitas Jr.

After Gaspar's death, Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue immediately called for a "three-strikes" law to give repeat criminals long prison terms.

While Lingle said she had some reservations about a three-strikes measure, she supports serious penalties for repeat offenders.

"If someone is proving over time that they are a habitual criminal with no respect for anyone else in the community, I think they should be dealt with harshly -- more harshly than someone who's a one-time criminal," she said.

On Maui, as across the state, it is usually the same group of suspects that accounts for most of the crime, Phillips said.

"It's the same people over, over and over that we arrest for burglary, theft and violent crimes," he said. "They get lengthy sentences, but they get paroled and they're back on the streets within a couple years. It's very frustrating."

Chai said he understands that the state is in an economic bind and the prisons are already overcrowded. But he says more prison facilities, counseling and treatment are desperately needed.

"When these guys go to jail, these programs are not available to them," he said. "We know they come out more violent. We know that it's a violent world within the prison system. When you put a lot of angry people together with others with bad criminal histories, it's just going to compound the problem."

Freitas said, "Although I respect and understand our rights to maintain everyone's civil rights, it is time for this state to enter into a serious dialogue about the very liberal position it takes in terms of criminal law and the criminal justice system when compared with the rest of the nation."

Freitas is unsure whether a three-strikes law is the answer, but he says a line of communication needs to be opened.

"Somebody just told me that Hawaii may be the only state that has a '15 strikes and you're out' law," he said.



Honolulu Police Department



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