Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News
If you park in the Ala Moana area,
it’s tantamount to leaving a sign on your
windshield saying:


‘Thieves go where the cars are,’
says HPD's head of auto theft investigation

By Richard Borreca

Take a three-mile drive starting at Ala Moana Center.

While you motor up Piikoi, turning on King and then down Hauoli Street, pray you don't park your car inside that urban rectangle.

The area, less than a mile square, is one of the best spots on Oahu to have your car stolen.

According to a computerized search of Honolulu Police Department crime reports by beat, the area in August had 36 car theft reports.

The Ala Moana area is a combination of three contiguous police beats, 55, 56 and 58.

The worst single beat for auto thefts is the leeward half of Waipahu, police beat 329, which had 17 theft reports.

On Oahu in August there were 446 reports of stolen vehicles.

While violent crimes attract most of the attention, police are coping with a skyrocketing property crime rate. Reports of auto theft, for example zoomed from 2,858 in 1986 to 7,440 in 1995.

That's an increase of 160 percent.

In 1994, one out of 93 registered vehicles in Honolulu was stolen, according to figures from the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That year was the latest available from the insurance industry.

Police Lt. Alan Anami, in charge of HPD auto theft investigation, confirms that the Ala Moana area is a prime territory for car thefts.

"Thieves go to where the cars are. If you wanted to steal a car, would you go to a deserted parking lot in Hawaii Kai or Ala Moana where people are always coming and going?" he said.

Dwight Yoshimura, senior vice president and general manager of Ala Moana Center, says five of those 36 thefts came from cars parked at the shopping center.

"We have closed-circuit television, we have increased parking security staff, we have a lot of undercover police support, still the thieves are so quick," he said. "We take a very aggressive approach, but it is very difficult to apprehend them and to deter them."

Across Oahu, crooks range from gang members, who as part of an initiation ritual have to steal a given number of cars in one day, to professional thieves, looking for transportation for other illegal activity.

"I think the majority of auto thefts are done by professionals," Anami said.

Those arrested, however, are likely to show one common trait. Stealing cars is something they have done before.

In 1995 there were 1,256 people arrested for stealing a car. Of that number, 83 percent had an arrest record and 43 percent had a prior arrest for auto theft, according to the Honolulu police records.

"Usually it isn't just one or two arrests, it is like four or five arrests," he said.

Stealing a car isn't usually the end of the thief's criminal activity, said Anami, who says a hot car is just a set of wheels to a crook.

People are stealing cars to go out and commit other crimes.

For instance, Anami says, drug dealers are using stolen cars to haul around their illegal dope.

The thieves, he says, have been scared away from using their own cars because of the property seizure laws attached to drug crimes.

Criminals worry that if they are arrested, police will seize their car, so to avoid that, they steal a car, or pay someone to steal a car for use in a drug deal.

"The dealers will pay someone to steal a car to be used for deliveries. That way, if they get busted, they don't lose their shiny Beemer (BMW)."

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