HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - When video of two robbery suspects who pepper sprayed employees at Walmart’s Keeaumoku store went viral over the weekend, it struck a nerve with Mike Kitchens.
The founder of Stolen Stuff Hawaii, a popular Facebook page that posts reports of recent thefts and helps victims recover their stolen goods, said he’s seeing more and more blatant crimes like the Walmart case in recent months.
“You can see there’s an escalation in crime as far as being a little bit more brazen, a little bit more in-your-face. The crimes that we’re seeing are more during the daylight hours,” said Kitchens.
“They’re blatantly coming up to somebody’s lawn in broad daylight and parking a U-Haul on the lawn and trying to steal a bike.”
According to the Honolulu Police Department, the number of thefts and robberies on Oahu actually dropped by about 18% during the pandemic from 24,184 in 2019 to last year’s 19,720.
But the police department does not keep statistics on the number of crimes committed in broad daylight or of property crimes committed when the victims are home.
That’s what happened to Dawn Hunt and her family — twice.
The first time, thieves stole Hunt’s Toyota Tacoma truck at night while she and her family were still home. The suspects drove off while her husband confronted the driver as he was driving away.
The second time, a group went through her family’s mail and her neighbors’ early in the morning before everyone got up. She said it was all caught on security cameras.
“They really have no care in the world. I think they feel invincible right now. And I think they know nothing is going to happen in the event they get caught,” said Hunt, whose totaled truck was found about two weeks later.
“I’m angry, I’m frustrated.”
Some believe that the lifting of the second shutdown order and the reopening of retails stores in August put criminals back on the prowl.
Others point to the court system’s decision to release hundreds of inmates early because of the spread of the virus.
The HPD said that of the Oahu inmates released due to the court’s emergency COVID -19response, 200 have been re-arrested by the police and that 80 of them have been arrested more than once.
“These criminals realize we are in a pandemic and they’re probably not going to serve much jail time if at all due to social distancing,” said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii.
Added Kitchens: “It’s been a perfect storm of the prisoners getting released, our courts are jammed up because of all the (COVID) citations,” he said.
“Then you have the fact that our justice system is already kind of weak on criminals.”
Police have not yet identified the suspects in the Walmart robbery attempt but sources said they’re focusing in on several known shoplifters.