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In-Depth Study Findings

This page provides summary data on each question asked of study participants. Several key questions have findings broken down by age or gender to see if those characteristics impact perceptions. 

General Public Perceptions of Safety in East Hawai'i 

Most people who participated in the study felt that the East Hawai'i (Hilo) community was as "safe" or "safer" than surrounding communities.

Public Perceptions of Safety in East Hawai'i 
During the Day

Generally, residents in East Hawai'i feel quite safe while alone during the day, with almost 70% of respondents saying they felt "safe" or "very safe."

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When broken down by gender, women felt less safe than men while out and alone during the day.

Data break down by age yielded no significant differences in feelings of
day-time safety.

Public Perceptions of Safety in East Hawai'i 
During the Night

Compared to feelings of safety during the day, East Hawai'i community members felt less safe while outside and alone at night. Only 36% stated they felt either "safe" or "very safe."

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Women reported feeling even less safe while alone and outside, when compared to daytime rates. Additionally, like during the day, women felt less safe overall compared to men.

There were slight differences in perceptions of safety by age. Those 31-55 years old were more likely to report neutral feelings of safety than other groups.

Safety Issues in East Hawai'i

Participants were asked, "What do you believe is the greatest safety issue facing the East Hawai'i community?" 
Responses fell largely into the following categories:
  • 35% of participants reported drugs
  • 18% - property crimes, such as theft or robbery
  • 11% - lack of police presence and understaffing
  • 9% - homelessness, typically coupled with mental health issues and substance use
  • 5% - mental illness
  • 4% - violence, such as gang-related and domestic violence
  • 3% - sex trafficking
  • 2% - kidnapping and abductions

"The homeless population [is] becoming large and agitated, because they are not getting the services they need."

"I would say the [biggest safety issue is the] remoteness of certain locations. For example, where I live, it is really far away, so if I were to call the police it would take some time for them to get to my home."

"Encountering someone who is so compromised by drug use (currently high or just overall their brain is fried) that they might be violent."

"People stealing stuff at properties." 

"The greatest safety issue facing the East Hawaii community is that there is a lot of kidnapping (for Big Island in general). And there is still a lot of violence among the youth. Recently there was protest against gang violence (in March 2023)." 

Perceptions of Policing in East Hawai'i Today:
The Relationship Between the Hawai'i Police Department and the Community

About one in three people feel that the Hawai'i Police Department (HPD) has a positive relationship with the local community.


This is significantly lower than perceptions of policing from the 1930s to 1970s. Respondents who are long-time residents in the East Hawai'i area (a total of 34 individuals) were asked to remember public sentiments from 1930 to 1970. Two in three of these individuals felt HPD had a positive relationship back then.

"[Officers back then were] friendly. They actively worked to help out the community and keep citizens safe. Officers drove home drunk drivers."

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1930s to 1970s

Returning to the present day, while gender did not have a significant impact on how people responded to this question, age did. The older the respondent, the more positive they felt about the current relationship between HPD and the East Hawai'i community.

Less than a third of respondents believed that HPD works to develop relationships with the community.

This perceived lack of relationship-building led many respondents to comment that they would like to see more community engagement on the part of HPD.

"Get more involved-- not [just] through calls on dealing with crime. Let the community see [HPD officers] when they are not just pulling us over or hearing about things on the news." 

"Be more pro-active at public events." 

"Having more presence in the community [is key]. Not just at events, but by patrolling around town and being in more areas. Getting out of their car and walking around, for people to see them and feel more safe." 

"Offering a program/class to the general public on the training police go through and having the public experience actual scenarios on decision making."

Behavior of the Hawai'i Police Department 

"[It] all depends on how citizens react to them first. It is half the response of the person and the attitude of the individual officer."

"They are either overzealous or hard to be found."

"I believe the officers are great, but because everyone knows each other in Hilo, some people can get away with some cases."

"They do a good job. We often hear about crimes in Hilo, but don't hear about how the police handled it. Sometimes no news is good news."

"[They are] worn out due to the police department being under-staffed [and] overworked."

Participants were asked, "Briefly, can you describe how the police generally behave here in East Hawai'i?" 
Responses fell largely into the following categories:
  • 56% of participants reported that officers were "friendly," "calm," "professional" or "respectful"
  • 14% - "negative" or "rude"
  • 8% - authoritarian, above the law, "entitled," or "corrupt"
  • 6% - not visible or lacking presence in the community
  • 5% - meeting needs
  • 4% - behavior depends on the context of the situation

Public Confidence in the Hawai'i Police Department 

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Over half of participants were "confident" or "very confident" that police officers act in the best interest of the public.


This amount is significantly lower than perceptions of policing from the 1930s to 1970s. Respondents who are long-time residents in the East Hawai'i area (a total of 34 individuals) were asked to remember public sentiments from 1930 to 1970. Almost three-quarters of these individuals felt "confident" or "very confident" back then.

1930s to 1970s

Returning to today's perceptions, despite general confidence that police officers act in the best interest of the public, almost half believed that HPD did not treat all people fairly.


While age did not have a significant impact on these perceptions, gender did. Women were more likely than men to perceive a lack of fairness by HPD.

Several respondents noted negative biases on the part of HPD officers based on race and ethnicity, particularly towards Micronesians, as well as on those suffering from mental health issues and homelessness.


Additionally, many noted that if someone had a personal connection to HPD, they could easily "get out of" tickets, cases, and more.

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Participants were largely undeterred by perceptions of unfairness, when it came to reporting crime and utilizing the police force. Four in five noted that they would be comfortable contacting police if necessary.

Furthermore, the majority participants who had interacted with HPD in the previous 5 years (144 individuals, or 58% of our sample) felt that their interactions with officers were "fair and equitable."

An analysis of respondent comments found that many had a generally "unfair" perception of HPD due to unfavorable local and national news reports and stories passed around anecdotally, rather than due to personal experiences.

This finding reveals how the media and local narratives can overshadow personal experiences with policing.

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Satisfaction with the Hawai'i Police Department

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About half (48%) of participants were either "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with police services in East Hawai'i. 

Analysis based on gender did not reveal any significant findings, however that by age did. People aged 31 to 55 years were not "very satisfied" compared to other age groups, while those 56 years and older were less "dissatisfied" and "very dissatisfied."

Part of the dissatisfaction mentioned may be due to a perception (and reality) of staffing shortages at HPD, as almost two-thirds of participants felt there were not enough officers to assist the community.

Desired Policing Improvements from the Community

"Be more proactive in gang-related/public violence in normal day-to-day and large group activities, such as concerts or events. Stop hiding in the bushes to get traffic stops just to meet their quota. More community outreach..."

"Be more neutral, especially when a case should be worked out in court. Look beyond race."

"Be more open and open-minded with the community. Learn a little history of the... cultures living here to better understand where they came from and why they might act in certain ways."

"Communicat[e] and listen to the public. [Don't] always think [you're] right. "

"I feel they can better train their officers in regards to laws and citizens rights. Not the rights of the officers, but the rights of the citizens. Not just knowing what laws cover them and their actions, but the citizens they are serving."

"More sensitivity training [on] interacting with persons with disabilities, especially those with mental issues or who cannot talk clearly. Learn how to utilize people in the community to help in making their neighborhoods safer for all."

Participants were asked, "How could the Hawai'i Police Department Improve?" 
Responses fell largely into the following categories:
  • 29% of participants recommended HPD hire more, qualified staff
    • Doing so would decrease response times and increase presence in rural areas​
  • 18% - more training of officers in topics of ethics, cultural awareness, and de-escalation
  • 18% - more community engagement and outreach
  • 6% - act with more with friendliness, open-mindedness, and integrity
  • 5% - more foot patrols, particularly of Downtown Hilo
  • 3% - end racial and ethnic stereotyping

"When hiring new police officers, they should not only check their resume, but their morality, too-- their entire judgement on how to treat people."

"Faster response times. In all of my experiences with [HPD], they have always taken a long time to come."

Experiences with Incarceration in East Hawai'i

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"[Incarceration resulted in] emotional and financial stress, [and an] invasion of rights and privacy." 

About out of five respondents
(48 individuals) reported being impacted by incarceration directly or within their family. 

This is significantly lower than the national rate of one in two adults (50%) being impacted by incarceration, a statistic found by researchers at Cornell University and in 2018. 

Despite this smaller ratio, incarceration is still devastating on the local community and families.

"[My] family member (brother) has been in prison. I was pretty young at the time, so it didn't directly impact me. But it certainly had lots of impacts on my family and really caused long lasting negative effects on the family and just mental strain in trying to get our brother back on his feet once getting out."

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