Criminals Take More Than Your Objects
Kevin Y. Kawamoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
With the holidays upon us, we need to be extra careful about protecting our home and property. Criminals are on the prowl all year-round, but homes filled with Christmas gifts and extra spending money may present an even stronger temptation for crooks to break in and take what is not theirs.
However, a criminal home invasion is about more than stolen property. It often robs its victims of their peace of mind and sense of security in a place that is supposed to be a comfortable haven. This feeling of violation can last a lifetime.
Shattered Peace of Mind
“Betty” (not her real name to protect her privacy) vividly remembers the afternoon she returned home from school to find that an intruder had entered her family’s Mänoa home. She recalls the details as if the incident happened only yesterday, although it actually occurred decades ago. She had returned home from school one afternoon and knew something was not right.
“I noticed that the kitchen louvers had been removed and neatly stacked on the ground,” she recounted for this story. “I instantaneously had a negative feeling that someone had entered our home and I was unsure whether the individual or individuals were still in our house. Back in those days there were no cell phones, so I went to a neighbor’s residence and asked to use their telephone.”
Betty called her father at work to tell him what she had found and that she suspected someone had broken into their home. “Needless to say, I was unwilling to enter the house alone.” She waited until her father got home and then they called the police.
“This experience was a major violation of our residence and property by someone with what I consider as evil intentions,” she said. “Whoever entered our residence virtually ransacked our house. At that time, my father wanted me to remain at home because he had to pick up my mother from work. I cannot begin to tell you how fearful I was to remain at home alone. I couldn’t look under the beds, closets, bathtub and so on enough, thinking that evil may still be lurking. I was extremely scared and could not feel calm until my family returned home.”
Even Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard has been a victim of a property crime. She spoke about it on the March 15, 2018, episode of the public affairs television program “Insights” on PBS Hawai‘i. Ballard appeared with three other county police chiefs in a wide-ranging discussion about policing in Hawai‘i.
“My house was burglarized,” Ballard said on the show. “And you can say it’s just a property crime. But if it happens to you, for a couple of years, it’s hard to sleep. It’s hard because every noise that you hear you’re thinking, ‘Oh, is somebody breaking into my house?’ So, it takes a toll on the person, even though it’s ‘just’ a property crime.” Although the perpetrator was never caught, Ballard said she did get some of her stolen items back.
Types of Property Crimes
There are a number of different specific acts that fall under the broader category of a property crime. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website, these include burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. Nationally, these property crimes may be more numerous than people realize. The FBI collects data from across the country. In 2017, it reported that about 7.7 million property crimes, excluding arson, were committed, resulting in losses of more than $15 billion nationally.
The Honolulu Police Department’s 2015 annual report — the most recent available on its website as of this writing — showed a total of 31,085 property crimes in the City and County of Honolulu. Of that number, 4,284 were burglaries. That is just for one year. If you have not personally been a victim of a property crime, chances are you know someone who has been.
Different Types of Crimes
Burglary, larceny-theft (hereafter, theft) and robbery — what is the difference? We sometimes use those words interchangeably, but they are, in fact, different types of crimes. The FBI defines burglary as “the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft.” The criminal does not have to use force to enter the structure, but the entry must be unlawful. Theft is “the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession . . . of another.” Robbery, by contrast, is defined as “the taking or attempting to take anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear.” A weapon is oftentimes used in committing a robbery, but it is not necessary to use a weapon to threaten another person.
Therefore, stealing a woman’s purse out of her shopping cart while she is not paying attention is theft, but confronting a man on a dark street and demanding his wallet while threatening him with a knife is robbery. A person who slips quietly into your neighbor’s unlocked home intending to steal her valuables while she is in the backyard watering her plants has committed a burglary. Of course, other crimes can be committed in addition to burglary once a criminal is in the house. If the occupant of the home is in the house, for example, and is ordered by the criminal to surrender all cash and jewelry in the house or risk bodily injury, then a robbery is also being committed.
Criminal intruders sometimes enter a home while its occupant or occupants are inside and commit crimes that go beyond burglary. In these cases, the psychological trauma caused to the victim is likely to be amplified many times over. Imagine confronting a criminal in your home, not knowing what his or her intentions are and whether or not your life is in danger. In extreme cases, the person being robbed by a criminal intruder may be seriously injured or killed, as a number of actual cases in the past several years in Hawai‘i have illustrated. For example, on Dec. 7, 2017, a 51-year-old woman was brutally murdered in the North Shore house she was cleaning. Her 8-year-old daughter was found alive upstairs with her legs and arms bound and her mouth taped shut. A young man and woman in their early 20s were charged with the crime.
On New Year’s Eve 2017, four armed men wearing ski masks entered the Mililani home of a 67-year-old kumu hula (hula teacher) and committed robbery, taking expensive jewelry that also had sentimental value to the home’s occupants. The kumu hula and her daughter, a former Miss Hawai‘i USA, were confronted by the men at gunpoint and threatened. The kumu hula’s husband was outside and unaware of what was going on in the home. In a separate incident less than three weeks later, two men — one wearing a mask and brandishing a weapon — invaded a Waimänalo home.
On Jan. 23 of this year, a middle-aged woman was sentenced for a 2015 home invasion in Kalihi in which she stabbed the home’s occupant multiple times and then set the home, an apartment, on fire. She was convicted of first-degree assault and arson and was sentenced to 10 years for each conviction to be served concurrently. According to news reports about the incident, the woman gained entry into the apartment after asking the occupant if she could use the bathroom. The victim of the crime said she is now afraid to open her door after what happened to her. These are only a handful of examples of violent home invasions in Hawai‘i.
This story is not meant to strike fear into the hearts of Hawai‘i residents or visitors, but rather to serve as a reminder to remain vigilant, help look out for each other, and take sensible steps to enhance safety and security. If you have been the victim of a property crime, don’t blame yourself. Victims of crime sometimes tell themselves, “I should have done this,” or “I shouldn’t have done that.” Remember, however, that it is the criminal who committed the wrong, not you. Generally speaking, Hawai‘i continues to be a relatively safe place in which to live. Due to a variety of factors, however, including property crimes committed to support a drug habit, residents should be vigilant about the potential for burglaries and thefts in their neighborhoods. To decrease the chances of that happening, law-abiding citizens need to take steps to safeguard their home and property.
Securing Your Home, Protecting Yourself
The Honolulu Police Department has produced a brochure called, “Residential Security Tips: Home Burglary and Theft Prevention.” The unfortunate reality of living in modern society is that property crimes do happen even to homes that take precautions, but there are things that home owners and occupants can do to protect their property and themselves. We thank Michelle Yu of HPD’s Media Liaison Office for sharing this information with Herald readers.
Safes should be used for firearms, cash, jewelry and other items you do not use regularly; however, do not rely solely on a safe. Safes with exposed hinges are more vulnerable to attack. All safes should be bolted to the floor/foundation to prevent them from being carried out.
Do Not Leave Valuables in Plain Sight
Tools, weed trimmers, lawn mowers and golf clubs are popular targets for thieves and are often left unsecured in open garages and carports. Never leave wallets, purses or other valuables unattended in your car or shopping cart, even for a short period of time.
Keep garage doors shut and locked when you are not around. An open garage door provides easy access to items in the garage as well as to your house. Doors leading to your house from the garage should be treated as exterior doors.
Perimeter/outdoor lighting is a recommended security/safety measure. Darkness can conceal an intruder. Lights with motion sensors are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. When you are not home, leave some interior lights on. A house in darkness is more appealing to intruders.
Neighbors, Vehicles and a Neighborhood Security Watch
Get to know your neighbors and their vehicles and report any suspicious persons or vehicles in your neighborhood to the police immediately by calling 911. Also, consider starting a Neighborhood Security Watch — it’s a great way to get to know your neighbors and the police in your area.
Alarm systems are good deterrents and are recommended. Obtain several estimates from established alarm companies and find a system that fits your needs and budget.
Doors and Door Locks
Exterior doors should be solid core wood or metal. Door hinges for all exterior doors should be inside the home or have non-removable pins.
Double deadbolt locks (requiring a key on both sides) are the most secure type of locks for doors. Three-inch screws should be used to secure the strike plate to the door frame. The deadbolt should extend at least one inch into the door frame. Caution: If you use a double deadbolt, always have a key readily available in the event of an emergency.
If you do not have a window near your front door, have a peephole installed. If you do not recognize the person, ask what he/she wants without opening the door. If you are suspicious, call the police at 911. Never open your door for strangers.
Sliding Glass Doors and Windows
Sliding glass doors and windows can be lifted or pried off of tracks. To prevent this, a wood bar or anti-lift plate can easily be installed to the upper track. Various types of locking devices are also available at hardware stores or from locksmiths. Charlie bars or bars that can be lowered into place at the end of a sliding glass door or window to prevent opening (similar to a broomstick in the track) are also recommended.
Louvered windows are intended for ventilation, not security. The most common way that burglars enter homes in Hawai‘i is by removing individual louvers. Louvers can be easily glued to the louver frame with silicon glue or epoxy cement. Ask your local hardware store for recommendations. Make sure your windows are closed tightly when no one is home and close your windows at night. If ventilation is needed, close the bottom set and only open the top set. Try to keep your windows/louvers clean.
Metal bars and grills can make windows secure, but they can be expensive and may not appeal to everyone. If bars are used, make sure a quick release mechanism is installed to ensure that they can be opened quickly from the inside in the event of an emergency.
Plants, Shrubbery, Walls and Fences
If your doors and windows cannot be seen by your neighbors or from the street, neither will intruders be seen. So, keep your trees and shrubbery trimmed low and away from doors and windows. Walls and fences create an obstacle for intruders, but they can also conceal them on your property. Design your wall or fence so that the outside areas of your home are visible.
Inventory Your Property
Document the make, model and serial numbers of tools, electronics, appliances, etc. Obtain full descriptions of your jewelry and, if possible, photograph the expensive pieces. Engrave your favorite numbers, date or initials on the items. Engraver’s tools are inexpensive and can be found at most hardware stores or they can be borrowed from most police stations.
In short, don’t make it easy for a criminal to illegally enter your home. Make it as inconvenient and troublesome as possible.
If you have access to the Internet, the Honolulu Police Department’s website has a wealth of information, not only for citizens from Honolulu, but for anyone interested in topics related to law enforcement, safety and security. The web address is www.honolulupd.org. For more online brochures on a variety of topics, click on the Information link, and then the Informational Brochures link. Incidentally, the Honolulu Police Department recently announced that it will no longer provide house checks due to the increased use and wider availability of home security and surveillance systems.
In this era of widespread technology use, we need to also regard the telephone, e-mail and the Internet as tools that criminals may use to commit crimes. Hang up on callers that you suspect are trying to swindle you. Delete suspicious e-mails or ask for advice from a trusted source to see whether the e-mail is legitimate. Be very careful with whom you share personal information, regardless of whether it is in person, on the telephone, via e-mail or regular mail or on the Internet. If you are in doubt, check it out first. If an offer from a stranger sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam. And if you are the victim of or witness a crime, call 911 to report it right away. It takes a village to combat criminal activity and property crimes in particular. Police officers cannot be everywhere. Neighbors need to work together to be the eyes and ears of their community.
Criminals can be clever, pretending to represent people whom you should be able to trust. Some months ago, Central Pacific Bank issued a fraud alert to its customers. “One or more individuals are impersonating a Central Pacific Bank employee and calling people requesting their social security number, credit/debit card numbers, account numbers, and/or other personal/private information,” the alert stated. “The fraudster is also disguising its telephone number as if it were coming from Central Pacific Bank’s main phone number (808) 544-0500. Please be advised that Central Pacific Bank and its employees do not call and ask for personal/private information over the phone. Please contact Central Pacific Bank’s Legal Department at (808) 544-3531 to report any suspicious calls.”
Unfortunately, not all crimes can be solved, and many property crimes may not even be investigated, according to HPD’s Chief Ballard during recent testimony before the Honolulu City Council. She said there aren’t enough resources to investigate all crimes due to staffing shortages, and that more serious and violent crimes are the priority. As a result, property owners may be getting letters from HPD informing them that their property crimes will not be investigated.
“Betty,” the woman mentioned earlier in this story who came home to find that her home had been broken into, hopes that things can change for the better. Now retired, the memory of her home burglary is still disturbing. “I would never wish this type of experience on anyone,” she said. “What society needs is more aloha and kindness, and we should concentrate our efforts on doing positive things with our lives.”
Kevin Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.