The members of the United States Attorney’s Office are all sadden by the murder of Honolulu Police Officer Glen Gaspar. We all share his family’s and the Honolulu Police Department’s loss.
Officer Gaspar has worked on several of our federal investigations. Those of us who knew him, found him to be a very conscientious, hard working, and dedicated public servant. He was also a devoted family man with children.
I know that the suspect who is in custody for Officer Gaspar’s murder has multiple convictions and dozens and dozens and dozens of prior arrests. Before Officer Gaspar’s murder, the suspect served a full prison sentence without being released on parole. While in prison, he also had a number of serious misconduct violations.
In focusing on his past criminal behavior, there is a general conclusion that our present system, which allows repeat offenders to be sentenced to either probation or given early parole, is not working. The track record clearly indicates that continuously giving these individuals breaks only enforces future bad behavior, because they are taught that there are minimum consequences for what they do.
We in the law enforcement community serve you with all our hearts and our souls. We have taken an oath to protect the public from harm. Yet, when we see a habitual criminal offender back out on the streets before we finish our arrest reports; or when we see habitual criminal offenders released on probation or parole without any repentance, we can predict that there will be another victim living in our community who will be harmed.
We in Hawaii’s law enforcement community are saddened by what happened to Officer Gaspar. We are also angry that the system allows such conduct to continue. At some point, those who know about a suspect’s continuous criminal behavior — and who still release them back into our community — are becoming part of our problem.
Today, the United States Supreme Court upheld California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out Law.” In their decision, the Supreme Court recognized that society has the right to make a deliberate policy choice that individuals who have repeatedly engaged in serious or violent criminal behavior, and whose conduct has not been deterred by more conventional approaches to punishment, must be isolated from our citizens in order to protect the public safety.
The Supreme Court also found that the “Three Strike” laws did have positive results. Four years after the passage of California’s three strikes law, the recidivism rate of parolees returned to prison for the commission of a new crime dropped by nearly 25 percent.
Even more dramatically, the Supreme Court observed that an unintended but positive consequence of ‘Three Strikes’ has been the impact on parolees leaving the state.
More California parolees are now leaving the state than parolees from other jurisdictions entering California. This striking turnaround started after the law was enacted, and it was the first time more parolees left the state than entered since 1976. This trend has continued, and in 1997, more than 1,000 net parolees left California.
Finally, the Court noted that prosecutors in Los Angeles routinely report that felons tell them they are moving out of the state because they fear getting a second or third strike for another criminal offense.
Of course, if Hawaii had such a law similar to California’s, maybe Officer Gaspar would still be alive today.
Thus, I strongly believe that our state Legislature should enact such laws for those who are habitual threats to citizens.
I also strongly believe that our citizens would support such a measure if it meant protection from these habitual offenders.
Yet, I am concerned because of my understanding that there may be a lack of legislative interest in proposed bills which would assist law enforcement in Hawaii.
I understand that the state House has yet to act on the bill that would make assault on a police officer at least as serious as an assault on a bus driver.
I also understand that the state House has yet to act on another bill that requires enhanced penalties for any person possessing or using a firearm near a school where children may be present.
I have seen a growing trend toward violent crimes in Hawaii. I have stated that most of these crimes are due to Hawaii’s drug problem, and more so, our crystal methamphetamine (ice) abuse. However, what is alarming me the most is that I am seeing more and more suspects displaying aggressive violent behavior toward law enforcement officers.
If they will assault a law enforcement officer who carries a gun, what could possibly deter them from attacks against unarmed citizens?
Clearly, we need a more effective and comprehensive plan to address the issue of repeat offenders, especially those who possess or use firearms.
Through our Project Safe Neighborhoods Program, federal prosecutors have charged over sixty (60) suspects in Hawaii since February 2002. This constitutes a 300 percent increase in our federal firearms prosecutions compared to prior years.
In many of these cases, we have seen defendants with numerous past convictions and probations. In some of these cases, the defendant had been repeatedly arrested for firearm offenses in the past by local law enforcement officers.
As a public servant, I feel compelled to speak out on this issue. The public needs to know about the frustrations voiced by their law enforcement community who are trying so hard to keep our streets and your families safe. If the state laws can be changed to protect us from these repeat offenders, Officer Gaspar’s death will not have been in vain.