Aug. 22, 2005 – V.I. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis and Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, appeared willing to agree to disagree about whether the Motor Vehicle Bureau should remain part of the Police Department. Baptiste said that every state he was familiar with divided the two operations. Lewis said "because of size" he would like to see the MVB remain attached to the Police Department.
However, the two officials did agree that the bureau needed to be investigated.
In his budget presentation, Lewis said, "We recently reviewed the revenue history of the Motor Vehicle Bureau. The data we gathered … were sometimes contradictory and often times inadequate, inviting speculation that there may be improprieties in the handling of accounts in that bureau …. I have requested that the Office of the Inspector General conduct a complete audit of the Motor Vehicle Bureau at its earliest opportunity."
Baptiste called Lewis' report on the Motor Vehicle Bureau "disturbing."
When they were not talking about the MVB, Lewis and Baptiste discussed the budget request submitted by Lewis, which seemed to confuse everyone.
During his budget presentation, Lewis submitted a $47.7 million budget request, plus a $14.2 million capital budget request.
In response to questions from Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Albert Elliot, director of fiscal and property management, first indicated that the $14.2 million was included in the $47.7 million, but then said it was not.
The $47.7 million specifically did include a $6.5 million supplemental budget request.
According to figures supplied by Lewis, the Office of Management and Budget was recommending a budget of $40.7 million. The VIPD originally asked that $598,000 be added to that request and then added another $6.5 million as a supplemental request.
Lewis and Elliott offered to have breakdowns on the capital budget and the supplemental budget to senators "within days."
While the senators were interested in the figures, their main focus appeared to be whether the Police Department could solve the problem of crime on the islands.
Nelson said departmental issues were one of the big three for him. The other two big issues were education and health.
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said to Lewis, "Your department is a number-one priority for me."
Baptiste questioned a section of Lewis' presentation concerning illegal guns arriving in the territory. Baptiste said there was a disturbing history with this initiative. He said, "It always appears to be a one-time effort. Nothing is consistent. The focus on the issue is [soon] withdrawn."
In his presentation, Lewis said that VIPD is partnering with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Project Safe Neighborhoods, an ongoing effort to rid the territory of illegal guns.
Nelson said that criminals on the islands know the Police Department's weak spots and have better communications than VIPD.
Lewis appeared taken aback by this statement. He said, "We have had communication problems, but we are making progress." He mentioned an improved telephone system, enhanced interconnectivity among departments, a computer-aided dispatch system and handheld radios that some officers now have.
A contractor helping VIPD upgrade its communications network said that towers were on order but that several million dollars would be required to complete the work.
Baptiste then asked if there was a way for VIPD to collaborate more with the V.I. Drug Enforcement Bureau. Lewis did not answer the question directly, instead he said there was some collaboration right now.
In his presentation, however, Lewis recommended disbanding the Drug Enforcement Bureau because he said it had been irreparably tarnished by criminal actions, adding, "The credibility of that organization has been compromised beyond redemption."
Finally, Lewis reported that a fleet of 200 new vehicles would be arriving on the islands within the next couple days. But even that good news was tempered. Lewis said that the new fleet would probably contribute to higher consumption of gasoline, which is now very expensive.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.