HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Cockfighting arrests are rare on the Big Island, but authorities are appealing to the public for help in ridding the island of the illegal activity.
"We're asking for the public's help if they know of any cockfight games that are going on in their areas," Lt. Burt Shimabukuro, commander of the Hilo Vice Division said Tuesday.
Cockfighting usually runs from Thanksgiving through the July 4 weekend, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald (http://is.gd/yFujG4 ). It involves attaching razor-sharp gaffs to the legs of roosters. The birds are then left to fight until all but one are either dead or so severely wounded they can't continue.
"With cockfighting comes gambling and a bunch of other organized crime activities, which isn't good," said Lt. Sherry Bird, commander of the Kona Vice Division.
One of the activities associated with cockfighting is "protection" for the game organizers, Shimabukuro and Bird said.
Shimabukuro said cockfighting has been going on for years, but making arrests can be challenging to law enforcement, even if police know the activity is going on.
"You've got to actually catch somebody physically doing the cockfighting, in possession of the cock with the gaffs on," he said.
The last reported arrest for cockfighting on the Big Island took place on May 29, 2011, at a macadamia nut orchard in Pahala. Police reported seeing 75 vehicles and about 150 people at the site, and officers found 20 dead roosters, plus injured roosters, rooster boxes, gaffs, cockfighting paraphernalia and gambling records. Officers also seized $7,737 in cash, and five men were arrested.
Cockfighting is considered second-degree cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Promoting gambling can be either a felony punishable by up to five years in prison or a misdemeanor, based on the number of bets and the amount of money. It is illegal under federal law to import gaffs.
Shimabukuro said that while there are occasionally reports of cockfights in Hilo, they usually occur in rural areas. Sometimes it is just a few people in a backyard. Other times, it can be more than 100 people involved.
He said that in Hawaii, cockfight participants and spectators come from all ethnicities and cultures, but that family ties are often involved when it comes to breeding and fighting gamecocks.
"It's something that's passed down in the family, generation to generation," Shimabukuro said.
Cockfighting is now illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is legal on Guam, which is a U.S. territory, but only at a licensed establishment.
Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/