Members of the Hawaiian Paradise Park Neighborhood Watch, from left, Eva Reyes, Barbara Robertson, Judi Houle, Heather McNeill and Ron Robertson, gather during the Hawaiian Paradise Park swap meet at the Paradise Community Center on Saturday morning. The swap meet held is the second Saturday of every month from 7-11 a.m. The neighborhood watch group meets the first Saturday of every month at 9 a.m.
By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
August produced a bumper crop of burglaries on the Big Island, with 142 reported islandwide, up from the previous month’s 95 burglary reports.
The spike in burglaries have also kept patrol officers and police detectives busy, with 11 burglary arrests in July and 15 in August.
“We’re putting a more concerted effort into the analysis of motives, patterns and the like, and we’ve gotten some excellent leads that have resulted in the arrest of some suspects,” Lt. Greg Esteban of the Hilo Criminal Investigations Section said Friday.
One of those arrests was Jesse Murray, a 38-year-old from Puna who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month and ordered to make $163,000 in restitution to his victims. Esteban called Murray’s incarceration “a tremendous help” in making East Hawaii neighborhoods safer.
“A lot of times — I won’t say in this particular case — but a lot of times, the property crimes are motivated by drug use. So what we need to do is make sure that nobody takes his place, which often happens,” Esteban said. “But Murray wasn’t responsible for all the burgs that happened during that time. There are different factions of individuals who are committing these crimes.”
Kona had 43 burglary reports in August, more than double the July total of 20. Burglary reports in South Hilo increased from 35 to 39, with numerous burglaries in Wainaku and Pepeekeo. Puna also saw a slight bump, from 29 to 33. The biggest spike, however, was in South Kohala, where four burglaries were reported in July and 18 were logged in August.
“The smaller districts, it’s sometimes more problematic because of lack of resources,” Esteban said. “What happens is that detectives … have to leave Kona to work on those cases in South Kohala.”
The Tribune-Herald reported in July that burglary reports averaged more than 80 a month between March and June, but none of those months saw 100 or more reports.
Judy Houle, chairwoman of the Hawaiian Paradise Park Neighborhood Watch, said that there is usually a spike in burglaries in summer and during the holiday season.
“The kids are out of school, so some of the burglaries are juveniles,” she said.
The Puna subdivision, which has 137 miles of roads and four main entrance roads, accounted for five reports in July and seven in August.
“There’s so much access to it. All the roads are joined together; you’ve got escape routes,” Esteban noted.
Houle joined the neighborhood watch three years ago after her home was burgled.
“At first, I was scared,” she recalled. “Then I secured the home more than one person would normally do and started to feel paranoid, thinking he might come back. And then, eventually when being scared passes, you feel a little bit mad because you feel like you want to catch the criminal. A lot of times, you never get back what was stolen. That’s the problem. And I believe a lot of criminals think, ‘Oh, you have your insurance policy to cover what you lost,’ but our insurance policy didn’t cover what was stolen.”
Houle never recovered her belongings and there were no arrests in her case.
She said her group meets monthly with Puna Community Policing Officer Sandor Finkey and gets a crime report for the subdivision and a map of where burglaries and certain other crimes occurred, which the Hawaiian Paradise Park Owners Association posts on its website.
Esteban praised the mission of neighborhood watches.
“Neighborhood watches have proven instrumental in aiding police by providing vigilance and additional eyes out there for law enforcement in identifying suspects, reporting suspicious activities or suspicious vehicles and helping their own neighborhood as far as preventing crimes,” he said.
Esteban said that unoccupied homes and vacation homes are often targeted by burglars.
“The burglars drive by, see that the yard is overgrown, there are no cars or no activity at the house. Of course, they’re gonna be targeted. Through neighborhood watch, they’re trying to establish that neighbors be mindful of that,” he said.
A lot of stolen property ends up in pawn shops, and Esteban said that detectives spend a lot of time going over those businesses’ records.
“As a result, we often gather intel from these pawn shops and recover stolen property, too,” he said, and added that gold buyers are also a magnet for stolen property.
“Gold buyers are increasing all over the island here because of demand for gold,” he said. “You’ve got the typical gold buyers who hold themselves accountable, and then you’ve got those who advertise … that they’ll buy gold, no questions asked. I don’t know if it’s going to take additional legislative action to hold these guys accountable, but existing laws need to be tweaked a little bit more.”
Those tweaks could take the model of the law making theft of more than a pound of copper a felony, which requires recyclers and others buying copper to take identification information from those who sell them the metal.
Esteban urged those who see suspicious activities in their neighborhoods to call Detective Royce Serrao at 961-8810 or Detective John Rodrigues Jr. at 961-2384.
The Community Policing Division also does home inspections to help residents secure their valuables. To schedule an inspection, or more information, call 961-2350.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.