March 21, 2006 — During a press conference Tuesday, Police Commissioner Elton Lewis and Internal Affairs Director Ray Martinez answered a broad range of questions about the conditions in the V.I. Police Department but declined to get into specifics about ongoing investigations.
Lewis began the conference, which was held at the Mars Hill headquarters with a video connection and participation from St. Thomas, by saying that U.S. Justice Department officials would be in the Virgin Islands at the end of this month to look into the department's operations.
He said the Justice Department's involvement is part of an ongoing investigation initiated a year ago to review the way the department handles civil rights matters (See "Police Inquiry Is Not An Investigation, Feds Say").
Martinez addressed issues of discipline in the department. He said officers had been given 350 days of suspension without pay in the last year and that eight officers had been targeted for dismissal – four are now gone, and four others are involved in the appeals process. He also said four officers had been arrested in crimes ranging from fraud and assault to reckless endangerment.
Lewis touched also on projects he has been advocating recently, including hiring more experienced police officers, building a state-of-the-art crime lab and establishing a V.I. training academy (See "Lewis Addresses Dreams and Realities at Chamber Luncheon").
Lewis said that while many negative things are said about the department, much has been accomplished. He said the department has recently completed its strategic plan and that it will be available on the VIPD Web site.
He pointed out that police training has been an issue and that officers had completed 40,000 man-hours of training since 2003.
He added that many "vexing problems" remain for the department. They include drug trafficking, illegal immigrants and unsolved homicides.
About the homicides, Lewis said, "If witnesses don't come forward, they will remain unsolved. If we don't get material evidence, they will remain unsolved."
He said he realized that often people are afraid to come forward, but there has to be a point where they can overcome that fear.
Lewis was also asked about the investigation of an alleged rape on St. John, which has resulted in demonstrations and claims that the alleged crime was racially motivated. He answered that he could not report anything new there. He responded similarly when asked about the case involving Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams, a St. Croix officer who went missing in 2001.
Lewis predicted that warrants would soon be issued concerning certain homicides in 2003. Again, because the investigation was ongoing, he refused to elaborate.
He announced the department was hiring three new top administrators – a chief financial officer, a public relations officer and an assistant commissioner.
He said, "These are bright, new energetic people."
Lewis said that there was room for improvement in many areas of the police department and that "it failed to do a good job" in keeping the families of crime victims informed of progress in specific cases. He added that he had a relative who was a victim of a violent crime that was unsolved and he could relate to the anguish of those families.
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