Guns are being used in more crimes across Oahu.
That's according to the Honolulu Police Department, which is changing the way its officers police over the holidays.

Before Oahu gun owners can start shooting things at island ranges, they have to go through a long list of requirements to be able to get a firearm: applications, permits, background checks, a review of their mental health, along with fees, completion of a gun safety course, and then a two week waiting period.

"I'm a law abiding gun owner. So I do all the things I need to do keep things on the positive side, but it is a stringent process," said Ewa Beach resident Scott Miller.

While law abiding gun owners go through that process, lately Honolulu police have seen more criminals getting their hands on guns and committing crimes.

"The increases have been significant in our eyes because they have been around 20%," said Maj. Walter Ozeki, with HPD's Criminal Investigations Division.

Many firearms used in crimes are never recovered, but police believe some may not be real handguns. According to Ozeki, those that are lethal weapons were more than likely stolen. Whether fake or real, using a gun to commit a robbery can double a potential prison sentence.

"For a convenience store robbery, where a suspect gets a couple hundred bucks, these guys are looking at 10 years in jail. These are just desperate crimes," added Ozeki.

In response to the increase to armed criminals, HPD will be changing things up over the holidays.

"We'll bring in our plain clothes units, and bike units. We will also switch hours and cover areas so we can address issues coming up," stated Police Chief Susan Ballard.

Next year, Honolulu police will also ask for $8 million more in its budget to add officers on foot patrol in Waikiki, Chinatown, and Kailua. If the additional funds are granted, HPD would increase the number of West Oahu officers as well as detectives island wide.

Ballard would also like more money for salaries. She said starting law enforcement officers are paid 15-20% less than in comparable cities.
But before adding new positions, HPD must first fill 250 vacant positions within the force - that will take years.

"With retirements and everything else, we are targeting 1.5-to-2 years to fill vacancies," stated Ballard.

But there is hope, once the police force is full, it will reduce crime levels not just over the holidays but throughout the year.

"More officers patrolling our neighborhoods will have a big impact on the type of crimes we see today," stated Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

One of the ways HPD plans to fill the vacancies is by increasing lateral recruitment from other law enforcement agencies, around the state and beyond.