Ice storm: Epidemic of the Islands

An equipment operator knocks down a rotting vacant building on the main street of Pahoa. The building had been a haven for drug users.

Police say ‘ice’ fuels
rise in crime and violence

Honolulu police say methamphetamine is the driving force behind the state's high property crime rate -- addicts stealing to support their ice habit.

But police say addicts' drug use leads to other crimes, and desperate addicts are now committing violent crimes.

And county police departments say drugs and ice are taking up more of their time and resources.

Police on Oahu and the Big Island said their vice officers are handling more cases for methamphetamine than for all other drugs combined.

At least 80 percent of HPD's Narcotics/Vice Division personnel are involved in drug enforcement and the drug of choice among felons is ice, said Capt. Kevin Lima.

Hawaii County vice officers spend nearly 90 percent of their time on cases involving hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and ice, said Capt. Sam Thomas, Hawaii County Police Department Criminal Investigation Division commander.

"It seems we have way more seizures in ice," he said. "Cocaine and heroin are way down."

Large amounts of methamphetamine started entering the Big Island between 1998 and 1999, Thomas said.

"When vice did a search warrant, if they recovered an ounce, that was a big bust," he said. "Then in 1999, they started recovering ice in pounds." That is when the distributors who were importing black tar heroin and cocaine from Mexico switched to methamphetamine, Thomas said.

The number of ice cases, arrests and seizures on Oahu and the Big Island in 2003 are ahead of the pace of the three previous years.

Thomas attributes the increase on the Big Island to greater community involvement.

"The public is calling in more and helping us more," he said.

In April, Big Island police established a 24-hour Vice/Tip Hotline. Callers are given a tracking number so they can call back to find out the status of the case or to offer additional information. The hot line numbers are 329-0-ICE (329-0423) for West Hawaii and 934-VICE (934-8423) for East Hawaii.

Big Island police also are establishing ice details in East and West Hawaii that will focus only on methamphetamine enforcement.

On Maui, ice is responsible for more arrests than any other drug. However, marijuana is responsible for more cases and seizures.

"It's the more popular drug, more widely used," said Maui Police Chief Thomas Phillips.

Ice is more prevalent than marijuana on Kauai even though there are more marijuana arrests, said Sgt. Dan Abadilla, Kauai Police Department Vice Section. The arrests are skewed by a high number of arrests of juveniles who possess small amounts of marijuana, he said.

Enforcement problems

Police continue to field complaints from the community that their tips result in slow or no action. Lima said drug investigations are lengthy, and if there are no police informants who have purchased drugs at a suspected drug house, then officers have to make undercover buys in order to get a search warrant.

"We can't just knock people's doors down," Lima said.

U.S. Attorney Edward Kubo is hoping this week's Hawaii Drug Control Strategy Summit will persuade lawmakers to seek an amendment to the state constitution to allow HPD to bring back the "walk and talk" program. The Hawaii Supreme Court struck down the program as unconstitutional in 1994, noting travelers must be told they are free to go before police ask to conduct searches.

In "walk and talk," plainclothes police officers would approach suspected drug smugglers at the airport, strike up a conversation and asked them to consent to a search. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice for federal law enforcement officers who call the practice "consensual encounters."

The result is that federal agents can do "walk and talk," but county police and sheriffs can't.

Kubo wants to make it legal for police to knock on the doors of suspected drug houses and to ask to search the property without a warrant based on anonymous complaints from the public.

And he is hoping lawmakers will amend the state's wiretap law to conform to federal law, making it easier for police to get wiretaps to monitor ice dealers.

Children also suffer

Ice users arrested for possessing methamphetamine often are involved in other crimes.

Hawaii had the highest larceny theft rate and the second-highest overall property crime rate in the nation in 2001, according to the most recent report from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

Property crimes include burglary, larceny theft and motor vehicle theft. Larceny-thefts include shoplifting, purse-snatching and theft from vehicles.

Honolulu police formed a special Auto Theft and Commercial Crimes task force in 2001 after recognizing that auto thieves were also committing other crimes. Hawaii had the sixth-highest number of auto thefts per capita in 2001, according to figures compiled by the FBI.

"Ninety-five percent of everybody we arrested was either an ice dealer or user," said Detective Bruce Swann, head of the task force.

Police also say ice is behind many child-neglect cases.

When officers carry out search warrants on suspected drug houses, they sometimes find children in dirty diapers, food that appeared to have been left out for days and roaches running all over the place, Thomas said.

Ice use on the part of parents also leads to medical neglect and failure to provide food and suitable shelter for their children, said Lt. Britt Nishijo, HPD Child Abuse Detail.

A new class of criminal

While there are no statistics on how many suspects involved in hostage-takings or standoffs were on ice, Maj. Michael Brede, commander of HPD's Specialized Services Division, said the number is high.

A recently published report by psychologist Dr. Harold Hall suggests people who commit violent offenses have violent tendencies even without ice use.

But police say ice addiction is creating a new class of criminal. Drug addicts, who normally commit property crimes and avoid confrontation, are now committing violent crimes, too.

"Nationally, we're low in violent crime, but property crime felons are taking it to the next level by using weapons because they're getting desperate," said Capt. Alan Arita, HPD Criminal Investigations Division deputy commander for violent crimes. "What used to be burglary or theft is now turning into robberies."

One recent example occurred June 26 in Punchbowl. Eric Kawamoto entered his Puowaina Drive home and found 17-year-old Miti "Junior" Maugaotega ransacking the house, according to police.

Police said Maugaotega confronted and shot Kawamoto, then fled. When police caught up with the teenager, they said they found cocaine, ice and an ice pipe in his possession. Maugaotega is awaiting trial as an adult for attempted murder, robbery, burglary, and firearm and drug offenses.

Swann, who is a member of HPD's Career Criminal Detail, said the suspects the detail is arresting do not fit the traditional criminal profile, but become criminals because of ice addiction.

"Of all the drugs I've seen in my 30 years as a police officer, this is the most destructive," he said.


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