CRIME RATES UP IN MARSHALL ISLANDS

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Increase in robberies especially high

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 19, 2010) - Criminal case filings by Marshall Islands prosecutors hit a two-decade low in 2009, according to High Court statistics, but National Police officials say crime — particularly robberies — is on the rise.

Only 17 cases were registered in the High Court last year, two of which were appeals from the District Court, meaning the actual number of High Court criminal cases filed by the Attorney General’s Office last year was only 15 — a 70 percent drop on the annual average for the previous seven years.

From 2002 to 2008, the AG’s office averaged 54 criminal cases filed a year in the High Court. But the number of cases prosecuted has been steadily declining since reaching a peak of 100 filed in 2006. In 2007, the number fell to 29 cases filed, in 2008, 27, and last year plummeted to just 17.

The government’s top legal office has gone through five attorneys general since 2008, and only hired a new AG with prosecution background in November.

New Attorney General Frederick Canavor Jr. said Thursday the AG’s office has only a handful of police reports pending that it will be using to file criminal charges in the High Court shortly. He added that a number of police reports had been returned to the national police for further investigation or details.

But police officials say they have submitted many crime reports to the AG’s office that have never been prosecuted.

Police Capt. Vincent Tani, who heads the criminal investigation division, said police were already seeing the impact of having Canavor in office. He indicated that reports filed in recent days were being quickly acted on compared to the past. Tani added that the AG’s office has been shorthanded in recent months.

Canavor expressed his desire to get criminal charges filed as quickly as possible after incidents occur.

Both Tani and Detective Carney Terry said police are seeing a big jump in robbery and burglary incidents in Majuro.

"Assault and batteries with a dangerous weapon were like an epidemic a few years ago, but have declined," Tani said. "It is theft and burglary that is an epidemic now."

He said part of the problem with bringing people to justice for committing this type of crime is that while people who live around a house that has been burglarized in this small community of 30,000 will usually know who committed the crime, they are reluctant to tell police investigators. "If people helped us with information, Majuro would be a nearly crime-free state," Tani said.

The two investigators see the change in the nature of crime in Majuro as a reflection of worsening economic conditions in the Marshall Islands.

Tani also said that most of the assaults reported to police are spouse abuse, and rarely go to the level of a court prosecution. This is because the wives will file a complaint with the police over an assault by their husband when the man is drunk, and the police will detain the man until he is sober. "The wife will call and ask us to let the husband out," Tani said, adding that the spouse normally tells the police she doesn’t want to pursue prosecution.

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