Police need help in curbing vandalism

LIHUE — Community involvement emerged as a key component in helping to solve a recent rash of vandalism cases in Lihue and other towns of the island, during discussions at yesterday’s meeting of the Lihue Business Association held at Hawaiian Classic Desserts restaurant on Rice Street.

“We need witnesses to solve crimes,” said Gordon Isoda, an assistant chief with the Kauai Police Department. “I think what we do need is for citizens to call” with information about crimes, he said.

Too often, people don’t want to get involved, and are afraid of retribution if they identify suspects or perpetrators, Isoda continued.

“People have to get involved. Citizens have to step up to the plate and take action,” said Isoda. “This is your community.”

New Lihue Postmaster Mark Gowan agrees. “We need more neighborhood watches. They (KPD) need that support from the community,” he said.

Post-office boxes at Lihue were broken into recently, in what appeared to be random acts of vandalism as opposed to targeted theft attempts, and private mailboxes at various locations around the island have been damaged, or had mail taken from them, he said.

Stealing mail and damaging boxes at post offices are federal crimes, and federal postal inspectors are investigating various Kauai incidents, he said. Gowan encouraged residents to remove mail from boxes as soon as it arrives, and report suspicious persons and vehicles to the police.

The importance of community assistance is amplified when Lt. Regina Ventura tells the audience of around 30 people that when she joined KPD in 1980, there were on each shift two patrol offices assigned to Kapaa, and two to Lihue.

Today, there are still two patrol officers per shift assigned to Kapaa, and two to Lihue, she said.

“We’re not CSI,'” she said, referring to the popular TV show. “CSI” stands for “crime scene investigation.” “Give us a chance to solve the crime,” said Ventura.

“Being a business owner, you’re going to have to take the initiative,” and install surveillance cameras to catch perpetrators in the act, she said.

Curtis Tom, of Bank of Hawaii, the Lihue Business Association moderator, said he is looking into the cost of installing and maintaining surveillance cameras at various street intersections. Such cameras, purchased, owned and operated by the county, would have the dual use of detecting those running red lights or committing other traffic offenses, and also possibly capturing on film other crimes such as vandalism and burglary, said Tom.

Regarding the rash of recent vandalism incidents in Lihue, Isoda said KPD detectives working the cases have some leads, and hope the leads will lead to an arrest or arrests.

Bank of Hawaii, Star Market, Kuhio Motors, Territorial Savings & Loan Association, Kauai High School library, and other buildings and private property have been subjected to criminal property damage (CPD), a broad category of crimes including vandalism.

Ventura recalled a recent case where people were driving around in a vehicle and doing damage with pellet guns. Police had no leads in the case until a citizen called with a license-plate number for one perpetrator’s vehicle.

“Other than that (tip), we had nothing,” she said. That citizen tip led to the arrest of five people in the case, with the perpetrators riding around with Ventura to identify most of the damage they caused.

“Really, there was no motive.”

Regarding the recent Lihue-area vandalism, Ventura’s theory is that the area’s convenience stores, some open 24 hours a day, draw youths, who from the stores spread out to do their damage.

Increases in property crimes are a national trend, said Lt. Fred DeBusca, Lihue district commander as well as patrol services officer. “It’s basically a crime done by youth,” and usually also involves alcohol use, he said.

Nationally, vandalism is done by youngsters ages 10 to 17, who are drinking, bored, and have nothing to do, he said.

Still, Kauai’s statistics show only a 4 percent increase in CPD reports, lower than the national increase. There are 25 to 30 cases of vandalism reported each month in the Lihue district, which stretches from the Tree Tunnel (Maluhia Road at Kaumualii Highway) to Wailua River.

Kapaa has 21 cases a month, DeBusca said. Last year, there were 627 CPD cases reported, with 229 of those, or around 37 percent, in the Lihue district. So far this year, there have been 295 CPD cases reported island-wide, with 112, or 38 percent, in the Lihue district.

KPD officers are in the process of looking at ways to reduce occurrences of vandalism, he added.

Asked if citizen patrols may help curtail vandalism, Isoda replied, “it might help.” But because the crimes are spread across the wide Lihue district, it would be difficult even for volunteer citizen patrols to cover the entire area.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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