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Criminologist: Don’t rely on HPD crime maps — they’re often inaccurate

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 5:01 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu police tout it as a tool to build a safer community. But a criminologist is calling the department’s crime mapping website misleading.

Hawaii News Now spent more than a month digging into the data and discovered the map’s most important feature — where crime is happening — is often wrong.

Between Jan. 15 and July 14, the 1300 block of Punchbowl Street was linked to seven robberies, according to HPD’s crime mapping website.

But a look at the actual police reports tells a much different story. Turns out just one of those seven robberies happened there.

The other six were reported at Queen’s Medical Center but occurred somewhere else.

“We’re told this is going to help us build a safer neighborhood,” said criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind. “And then we discover their definition of neighborhood is methodologically flawed.”

What HPD posts is the time and location of where the report was made.

That means the icon on the map doesn’t always represent where the crime actually happened — or even when it happened.

There is a line on the site acknowledging some of what’s posted is wrong. Chesney-Lind says it’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

“What mapping is all about is location,” she said. “That’s why these distortions are so problematic. You’re not getting an accurate picture of where crimes are occurring.”

The head of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board agrees, saying it would be more beneficial to know exactly when and where illegal activity is happening.

“Partially to know what to look out for. Partially to know what to report to police,” said Robert Finley.

Hundreds of crimes are listed on the map. Too many for us to cross check them all, so we chose a sample.

HNN analyzed most of the robberies in District 2, which includes the the Wahiawa area, over a six-month period and found only the ones in green displayed on the map below actually happened when and where they’re listed. The red icons had inaccuracies.

HNN also confirmed two more robberies happened during that time period but weren’t marked on the map. Records show one occurred in the 300 block of Cane Street. The other in the 95-000 block of Naholoholo Street. It’s unclear why those crimes are missing. They are also colored red.

HNN analyzed robberies in the Wahiawa area over that same six month period and found only the...
HNN analyzed robberies in the Wahiawa area over that same six month period and found only the ones in green actually happened when and where they're marked on the map. The red markers had inaccuracies.(Hawaii News Now)

One robbery is listed at an apartment complex on Wikao Street. But police records reveal it actually happened while the victim was walking down the street more than a mile and a half away.

One robbery is listed at an apartment complex on Wikao Street. But police records reveal it...
One robbery is listed at an apartment complex on Wikao Street. But police records reveal it actually happened while the victim was walking down the street more than a mile and a half away.(Hawaii News Now)

Another robbery was listed at the correct location. But because it was reported several days later the date and time are wrong. It actually happened on Jan. 23 at 7:00 p.m.

Another robbery was listed at the correct location. But because it was reported several days...
Another robbery was listed at the correct location. But because it was reported several days later the date and time are wrong. It actually happened on Jan. 23 at 7:00 p.m.(Hawaii News Now)

“It’s the sort of thing that should be fixed because it misleads people,” said Chesney-Lind.

Too little information is also leaving folks with the wrong impression.

Over the same six-month period, the 1400 block of Ala Moana Boulevard, home to Ala Moana Center, was listed as having 11 robberies — the most at any one location on the island.

“First thing that comes to mind is someone snatching a purse,” said Rayden Siador.

Arnaz Mirza also shared her thoughts, “A mugging basically, that’s what I think.”

Both are understandable impressions — but wrong.

Of the 11 robberies, one happened somewhere else. And HPD confirmed eight of them were actually shoplifting cases where the suspect used physical force or a weapon when confronted by employees.

“It’s surprising,” said Azumi Koyama.

Despite repeated requests Honolulu police wouldn’t do an interview with HNN for this story.

A spokesperson said in a statement:

“The crime mapping feature contains timely, basic information on most crimes and is popular with the public. While the technology isn’t perfect, it does show where the incident was reported from and, in most cases, where the incident occurred.”

Chesney Lind responded, “We need to clean up the data. I don’t think most people are interested in the reporting of crimes. They’re interested in where crimes occur.”

HPD says at this time, the department has no plans to make changes to its crime maps.

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