Keep lid on crime, fears


POSTED: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In Hawaii and elsewhere in the country, most people think crime has been on the rise due to the downward economy — but they are wrong. The gravitation to crime reporting on television news adds to the misperception, and viewers should recognize that the rise in crime reports on the local news does not mean crime has increased.

A more meaningful explanation of why the 6 o'clock news leads with four or more reports on crime or fire is that local TV news nationally has experienced a 4.3 percent job cut and 4.4 percent in salary reductions. Reporters who would have been assigned to one story a day during better times now must cover several stories, and time is precious.

“;The local television stations just park their cameras by the courtroom and it's crime, crime, crime,”; Meda Chesney-Lind, a University of Hawaii women's studies professor and criminologist,”; told the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan. “;It's very cheap to produce. So the public gets the impression that the crime problem is out of control.”;

A survey released in September by the state Department of the Attorney General showed that 51 percent of the respondents felt Hawaii's crime rate last year was higher than usual, while 13 percent were right in feeling it was lower. It found that 57 percent said they were fearful of being the victim of a violent crime within a year.

Actually, the state's crime rate had fallen last year to the lowest level since such information began being recorded in 1975, dropping last year by 13 percent from 2007 and by 23 percent over the past decade. Offenses fell to 3,839 per 100,000 residents in 2008, from 4,835 in 1998.

Job losses, foreclosures and reduced social services nationally did not lead to increased crime, which many people assume. The FBI's compilation of local and state crime reports shows that murders declined by 4.4 percent in 2008 from 2007, rapes by 2.2 percent, robberies by 1.1 percent and assaults by 3.2 percent.

“;Everybody knows that because of our economic problems, crime must be skyrocketing — except that it's not,”; David M. Kennedy of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice told The New York Times in June. “;Historically — and our current experience on the ground around the country proves this — increases in crime are not inevitable when the economy goes sour.”;

That's reassuring news. To hear former police chief Boisse Correa and Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle tell it, cooperation among law-and-order agencies has played a pivotal role. These include initiatives such as Operation Pitstop, which targets stolen vehicles, and the Property Crime Task Force, which “;targets individuals who are known to be thieves,”; Carlisle said.

Shut down the thieves — the repeat criminals — and reduce crime at the root. Keep it going.