Feb. 21, 2007 — The appointment of a new Police commissioner and two district police chiefs will allow the government to begin working on major crime initiatives, mend relations between the VIPD and the Department of Justice and curb the recent increase in violent crime, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said during a press conference Wednesday.
Speaking at the Chase Manhattan Bank Auditorium at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Thomas campus, deJongh announced his selection of James McCall as the commissioner of police. McCall, who served as the assistant commissioner under the previous administration, was also appointed by deJongh in January as the interim police commissioner.
DeJongh said he would soon be issuing an executive order dealing with the reorganization of the Police Department, which cuts out the territorial chief position and replaces it with two district chief police chiefs. Deputy police chiefs have not yet been selected, he said.
Territorial Chief of Police Novelle Francis Jr. will now serve as the assistant commissioner, deJongh added.
Speaking later during the press conference, McCall announced his selections for district police chiefs: Sgt. Winsbut McFarlande, as acting chief of the St. Croix district, and Sgt. Milton Petersen, who will have purview over St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island.
With this team in place, deJongh and McCall said the government is ready to begin moving forward with a plethora of crime-solving initiatives, including new recruitment strategies, the establishment of a local DNA lab and increased security efforts in local public schools.
"In the short time that I have been governor, our territory has experienced a stabbing death at the St. Croix Festival (that stabbing committed by minors), the shooting of a 10th-grader on the campus of a public high school and the murder of a police officer in broad daylight," deJongh said. "These events have taken place against a backdrop of many other less-publicized crimes."
DeJongh added that a number of unsolved murders, a rash of burglaries on St. John and other incidents on school campuses are "unacceptable" and have pushed the community "past the point where enough is enough."
To address these issues, deJongh said the new administration, in conjunction with the Justice and Police departments, will be working "on many things at once." This includes: collaborating with several federal agencies to reduce the number of illegal weapons filtering through the territory, meeting with various school officials to determine safety and security needs, and adding at least 100 new police officers to the ranks in each district.
To help with filling the positions — which will ultimately increase the visibility of officers throughout local communities — deJongh said that he has ordered the department to hire a recruiter, who will "hire and utilize the assistance of a specialized recruitment firm or firms to rebuild our police force it its full strength."
Building on deJongh's remarks, McCall said that the department's new recruiter would also help to ensure officers coming onto the force are well-trained. "This position will require the territory to interact with recruiters and recruiting firms to assist us in finding the best talent available to augment our police force," he said. "This may include the lateral transfer of police officers from other U.S. Police departments that posses special skills."
McCall later explained that those individuals will specifically help train local officers in the area of forensic investigation.
To help in the investigation process, McCall said that the department is working on developing a state-of-the-art forensics unit. "We have the means to do this. This is not a dream," he said. "Among other things, we are currently establishing a partnership with the Juan Luis Hospital and the Department of Justice that will allow us to process DNA right here in the territory."
The project, which should be launched within the next three years, will allow VIPD to do fingerprint and firearm analysis and develop toxicology reports, among other things, he said.
Acting Attorney General Vincent Frazer added that the government currently has $120,000 in federal funds to begin purchasing the analytical equipment.
Establishing partnerships with various federal agencies — including the FBI, U.S. Marshall's Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — will also assist the government in monitoring the territory's borders, keeping a close eye on the trafficking of illegal weapons from states such as Florida, Georgia, Texas and Virginia, McCall said.
"We will re-establish the Blue Lightning Marine Unit on St. Thomas. The unit was established to patrol our shores and stem the introduction of drugs, guns, and illegal immigrants into the territory," he explained. "Operation Blue Lightning will work with members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and receive extensive training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center."
To monitor activities on land, the department will additionally be evaluating the number and placement of surveillance cameras throughout the territory. McCall described the equipment as another effective "tool" for identifying and capturing perpetrators.
McCall and deJongh added that in the short term, the Police and Justice departments, along with other members of the new administration, will be:
–negotiating a new contract with the police unions;
–implementing a range of traffic initiatives designed to lessen delays caused by congestion and "bad driving practices;"
–improving conditions in the territory's jails and Bureau of Corrections;
–meeting with school officials to discuss safety and security needs, and outline how approximately $100 million worth of General Fund money will be used;
–using $1.2 million from the Public Finance Authority to put in place a new and advanced 911 system. An additional $400,000 from the Office of Homeland Security will be used to purchase new radio equipment, which will be utilized by the VIPD, V.I. Fire Services, Emergency Medical Services and other first-responder agencies; and
–working with officers in a recently established "cold case unit" to reduce the number of unsolved cases currently on the books.
McCall added that increased community participation in solving crimes led to the establishment of the cold case unit and the recent arrests of suspects involved in two high-profile shooting incidents– in particular, the shooting death of veteran Police Officer Ariel A. Frett.
"Three recent homicide arrests were made as the direct result of citizens coming forward with information. We are extremely encouraged by this," he said. "We know it's not easy in a community this size for people to step forward, but it is clear that the community realizes it is essential, it is clear that the people of the Virgin Islands are saying they have had enough."
"There is but one goal here: to get criminals off the street," McCall added.
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