Jan. 9, 2004 – The Police Department has "stepped up the pressure" to root out violent crime that has been plaguing the V.I. community, Commissioner Elton Lewis said at a press conference on Friday, describing a series of raids in the last week conducted by local and federal authorities.
The raids, carried out on St. Croix, netted contraband, counterfeit money, more than a thousand dollars in real money, bulletproof vests, automatic weapons, silencers and ski masks in various colors, he said.
Some of the guns and other items seized were on display Friday in the conference room of the Police headquarters at the Rainbow Center in Hannah's Rest, where the press conference was held.
Six individuals were held for questioning, two arrests were made, and several other persons subsequently turned themselves in to police, Lewis added.
Assisting the local authorities in the raids, he said, were U.S. marshals and federal Drug Enforcement Task Force; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; FBI and Tactical Response Team personnel. Raids were conducted in the Castle Coakley area, Estate Fredensborg, Randolph "Doc" James Racetrack, and the Ralph De Chabert and D. Hamilton Jackson housing communities.
According to Lewis, a group called "The Commission" is the focus of the police investigation. "The violence will stop," he said. "We will vigorously and deliberately go after criminals and groups until we have rid them from the community."
Also taking part in the press conference was Attorney General Iver Stridiron, who said the V.I. Justice Department assisted the police in carrying out the raids by expediting the issuance of search warrants and other legal paperwork. Stridiron said he has pledged to make the territory safe from criminals. "We will seize the weaponry and the spoils of their misdeeds," he said.
"This process has been in the works for several months," Lewis said of the violent crime crackdown. "The shooting of Angel Diaz Sr. just caused us to step up the pace."
Diaz, the father of Officer Angel Diaz Jr., was wounded in a hail of gunfire last Sunday night as he was driving his son's pickup truck near Alfredo Andrews Elementary School. More than 20 shots were fired at Diaz, who was struck four times in the right and left sides.
Authorities have theorized that the assailants thought the junior Diaz was at the wheel of the truck when they opened fire. Lewis said on Friday that the entire Diaz family is now under police protection.
The commissioner said involvement of federal authorities in local police matters is nothing new. However, he said, referring to the Diaz case, "When criminals cross the line and make threats against police officers, the department will do anything within the law to apprehend them."
In the course of the press conference, Lewis provided updates on progress his department is making in pending cases and in operational areas. He said:
– "Great strides" have been made in the investigation into the presumed homicide of Police Officer Wendell "Lazee" Williams. An 18-year veteran of the force on St. Croix, Williams disappeared in June of 2001. The burned-out hulk of his personal car was found about two weeks later in bush near Castle Burke, with spent shell casings from a high-powered weapon nearby. (See "FBI joins search for missing police officer".)
– Ray Martinez, former director of the Public Employees Relations Board, has been named acting commissioner in charge of the Police Internal Affairs Bureau. Martinez, a civilian, is responsible for day-to-day Internal Affairs operations as well as labor issues.
– The department has purchased two specialized vehicles, one for each district, that are designed and equipped to respond to bomb situations. Technicians who have received FBI training in explosives will man the vehicles, Lewis said.
– The Amber Alert program, a nationwide emergency response system used by law-enforcement authorities in cases involving missing children, will be implemented in the territory. (For information about the program, visit the Amber Alert Now Web site.)
– A police substation will be established in Coral Bay on St. John's East End.
– Training of police officers will be ongoing. The federal government and the University of the Virgin Islands will conduct training, and the Attorney General's Office will provide civil rights training to all police officers.
– The department has come into compliance with the federal Asset Forfeiture Program, and $50,000 now available locally through the program will be used for police operations.
– Negotiations are under way for St. Croix to host a 2005 meeting of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police. Lewis attended a meeting of the organization in Barbados in early December.
– The Police Department's Patrick Sweeney Headquarters in Golden Grove, where evidence and vehicles have been destroyed, will be refurbished and secured.
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