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Gun Violence Remains A Consistent Problem In Hawaii

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Gun Violence Remains A Consistent Problem In Hawaii

Jan 18, 2024 | 8:58 am ET
By Matthew Leonard
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Theresa Cachuela was one of the last victims of gun violence in the state in 2023. Her body lies in a parking garage in Pearlridge. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
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Theresa Cachuela was one of the last victims of gun violence in the state in 2023. Her body lies in a parking garage in Pearlridge. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Gun violence is on the decline nationwide but that trend might surprise residents of Hawaii.

December alone saw six shooting deaths in the state including a murder-suicide, and New Year’s Day brought three fatalities including a fatal shooting by police and the second murder-suicide linked to intimate partner violence in as many weeks.

That spate of violence meant the state ended the year with a fatal firearms injury toll close to the highest point in the past 10 years.

But last year saw a reduction in firearms deaths and injuries in the United States of between 8% and 10%, with some major cities seeing decreases of 20% or more, according to initial estimates from the Gun Violence Archive database which tracks shooting incidents nationwide.

he data collection group reported 18,854 firearm deaths nationwide in 2023, compared to 20,390 in 2022, not including deaths by suicide.

In Hawaii, at least 18 people were victims of gun violence in 2023, not including deaths by suicide. This estimate is based on media reports and police releases monitored by the Gun Violence Archive and Civil Beat.

Two of the shooting incidents were double homicides.

The final total may be revised following final determination of underlying causes of death based on the Hawaii Department of Health death certificate database.

The estimated 18 casualties of firearms assault for 2023 exceed the 14 deaths in 2022 and equals the number of deaths in 2021.

The 20 deaths in 2018 represent the peak for the past decade, according to Department of Health data.

Deaths by suicide involving a firearm exceed homicides in most states including Hawaii, making up around 68% of deaths compared to 23% for homicides and under 10% by other causes including legal intervention.

Final numbers for suicide deaths are expected to be available later this year.

Fatal Encounters With Police Increased From 2022

Of the seven deaths involving law enforcement in 2023, four individuals were shot and killed by police, two died from self-inflicted gunshots while engaged with law enforcement, and one individual died after being tasered.

All four of those shot and killed by law enforcement in 2023 were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The four casualties are twice the number shot and killed by police in the state in 2022.

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders remain significantly overrepresented in police killings in the state according to the 2023 findings of the advocacy site, Mapping Police Violence and Civil Beat data.

Nationwide, the Washington Post reported that 1,153 people were shot and killed by police in 2023, which was 56 more than in 2022.

Honolulu Does See Decline In Violent Crimes

Gun violence aside, the state's largest city saw an 8% reduction in murders and non-negligent homicides and larger reductions in other categories of violent crime like aggravated assaults compared to 2022, according to the Honolulu Police Department data dashboard -- 22 homicides in 2023 compared to 25 in 2022.

Although welcome news, crime data analyst Jeff Asher has reported that murder rates in U.S cities in 2023 fell by more than 12%, one of the largest declines on record, so Honolulu is behind that trend. On the plus side, rates of violent crime per 100,000 people in the state declined from 2021 to 2022, the most recent year that the FBI's Crime Data Explorer shows.

Using FBI and city-level data, Asher has also detected another drop and that's a decline in case clearance rates since 2019, including for murder, rape, robbery and auto theft.

Asher says that staffing shortages and resignations in police departments nationwide have resulted in longer response times and fewer officers to respond to scenes to question witnesses and gather evidence.

By 2022, departments were solving 37% of their violent crimes and 12% of property crimes, the FBI shows, a drop of 11% or more in some categories.

HPD's data dashboard shows clearance rates for property crimes followed this national trend between 2019 and 2022, but the department's clearance rates for homicide and assault offenses ran counter to the mainland and improved from 2021 to 2022.

A six-year overview of HPD homicide clearance rates shows that it has hovered at around 85%, significantly above the national rate, despite falling from 91.2% to 79.2% from 2022 to 2023.

Hawaii continues to have one of the lowest age-adjusted firearm fatality rates in the nation.