Thursday, January 29, 1998

More residents
of Hawaii victims
of crime in 1996

A survey shows 55% said they were
victims, up from the previous two years

By Rod Ohira

More people say they were crime victims in 1996 despite a dramatic decrease in reported offenses that year.

The "Crime and Justice in Hawaii: 1997 Hawaii Household Survey Report," released today by the state attorney general's office, notes that 55 percent of respondents reported being victims of crime.

The 1996 victimization numbers are up 10 percent from 1995 and 1994, both of which saw a 45 percent rate; and 15 percent from 1993, when 40 percent of respondents said they were victims.

"Surveys like these are extremely helpful in responding to the needs of the victim and getting to the roots of crime," Attorney General Margery Bronster said.

The victimization rate for property crime offenses increased from about 35 percent in 1993 to 49 percent in 1996, while violent crime victimization remained comparatively stable during the same period.

Attitudes toward crime

The survey results appear to run counter to the attorney general's "Crime in Hawaii 1996" report, released last fall, which reflected across-the-board decreases for all reported serious offenses except robbery.

Both studies have flaws since not all crimes are reported to police and victims of crime are more likely to participate in a survey so their numbers should not be interpreted at face value, says a state statistician.

"The uniform crime report numbers reflect the low-end and the victimization survey the ceiling for estimates of the actual nature, extent and fear of crime in Hawaii," said Paul Perrone, chief of the Research and Statistics Branch who worked on both projects.

"The numbers are not perfect so we never know what the actual extent of crime in Hawaii is," Perrone added.

"But since the uniform crime report flaws are repeated consistently, it allows us to look at trends more accurately."

The victimization survey represents a perception or attitude, says Perrone.

Ninety-seven percent of respondents, for example, felt crime in Hawaii was at least somewhat serious, with about two-thirds of them rating it as very serious.

Also, 70 percent of 784 respondents said fear of crime prevented them from doing some of the things they would like to do while 47 percent say they are afraid to walk alone at night near their homes.

Attitudes toward crime

Acting Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue thinks the percentage figures are too high but says the survey is still useful as an indicator.

"I think we're looking at real concerns that have to be addressed," Donohue said, "and No. 1 is fear of crime.

"One way we can address these quality of life issues is with more police presence and identifying hot spots, like we did in Waikiki with the purse-snatchings," he added.

About 60 percent of the 1,325 Hawaii residents selected randomly last spring agreed to participate in the victimization survey, said Perrone.

The sampling also included respondents from the 1996 survey who agreed to participate for a second straight year and a third group of respondents from the 1995 survey who participated for a third year.

While he does not disagree with the general findings of the survey, Big Island Police Chief Wayne Carvalho questions the validity of the percentages due to the method of sampling.

"Although the pool of respondents to a mailed survey may be chosen randomly, there is no way to measure the randomness of the completed surveys returned," Carvalho said.

"Studies have shown that people who respond to a mailed survey tend to be those who are most concerned about an issue and therefore do not represent the sampling universe as a whole," he added.

"Unfortunately, the number of responses from each county was not readily available so I'll assume that the questionnaires were randomly distributed throughout the state," Carvalho said.

"Since Hawaii County has an estimated 11.7 percent of the state's population, it is logical to assume that only 92 questionnaires were returned from the Big Island -- hardly enough to draw any valid conclusions about the public's perception of law-enforcement performance locally, much less specific percentages," Carvalho added.

Views on crime

Highlights of the victimization survey:

The greatest percentage of survey respondents get their information about crime from the newspaper (83.3 percent), followed by television (75 percent), radio (54.8 percent) and relatives (49.9 percent).

The two reasons most often cited for not reporting a crime to police were that the offense was not important enough and that police could not do anything about the crime.

59.2 percent think law enforcement in their neighborhood is doing a good or excellent job, while 63.2 percent feel the criminal justice system is too easy and, as a result, contributes a great deal to the crime problem.

Of the 54.5 percent of respondents who were victims of crime in 1996, 56.1 percent were women and 53 percent men. Property crime victims made up 49.3 percent of the total while 12 percent said they were victims of violent crime.

26.7 percent of respondents had property stolen from their motor vehicle, while 14.7 percent say someone tried to break into their vehicle.

Read the full Attorney General's report

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