Another Side of the Story


Surveillance would
help curb motor
vehicle fraud

Hiring a few more police officers and prosecutors to wage war on auto-theft crimes is like trying to put out a three-alarm fire with a water hose ("Car theft up 49 percent on Oahu," Star-Bulletin, Nov.9). We need to rethink how we prevent and investigate motor vehicle crimes in this state.

Every month hundreds of motor vehicles are fraudulently registered by individuals who are concealing their identities and addresses. Any village idiot can walk into our city halls and register a motor vehicle by using a false identity and/or a non-existent address. Nobody checks until after a car is used in criminal activity.

Every year thousands of cars are sold and resold in Hawaii without anyone bothering to re-register the vehicles at all. Every year, police officers issue thousands of citations for automobiles with seriously delinquent motor vehicle regis- trations with little or no impact because the citation is frequently ignored.

As a result, we have a major industry in this state that involves the sale of cars with rolled-back odometers, the use of cars to stage accidents and bogus theft reports, and a major market for stolen auto parts. We have laws that, if enforced, could eliminate those problems. But those laws are not enforced because we are so busy with the water hose that we ignore the criminals with the gasoline and the matches.

You cannot buy groceries or use an ATM in Hawaii without your face being recorded on videotape. But you can walk into a government office and register a motor vehicle using a fraudulent address secure in the knowledge that no one is investigating and, even if they were, there are no cameras in the office.

We have laws that call for the seizure and forfeiture of vehicles if the weight tax on those vehicles is delinquent. That law is virtually never used because the mountain of vehicle metal would be so high we could build a four-lane bridge to Kauai.

If we truly want to protect our citizens and our economy, we need a few surveillance cameras at the city Department of Motor Vehicles, a software system that kicks out bogus addresses, a referral of bogus motor vehicle registrations to one police officer assigned to investigate bogus car registrations -- and plenty of tow trucks.

That solution is not as sexy or expensive as six more lawyers, and I know that City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle could use the help, but it will reduce auto thefts, insurance fraud and a laundry list of other crimes.

Rick Damerville is a state deputy attorney general.

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