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Despite Favorable Committee Response, Crime Bill Will Require More Fine-Tuning

March 28, 2007 — A comprehensive crime bill that, among other things, establishes a formal witness protection program and appropriates money for 250 new officers throughout the territory, garnered much support Wednesday from various law enforcement officials. However, senators decided to hold the bill in the Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee until certain changes and additions are made.
According to Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, the bill's sponsor, new amendments would free up funds for the V.I. Police Department to hire a recruitment officer in each district, set up a cold case squad designed to reduce the number of unsolved crimes and possibly re-establish the police auxiliary force.
Dowe added that the bill's current language may also be changed to incorporate suggestions made during Wednesday's hearing by Police Commissioner James H. McCall and Attorney General Vincent Frazer, along with representatives from the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union (LESU).
As presently written, major sections of the bill: a) establish a Witness Protection Board and Witness Protection Program within the Department of Justice; b) outline what authority is given to the board, attorney general and police commissioner through the program; c) allow the police commissioner to offer bonuses to officers seeking early retirement; and d) set up policies for the recruitment of off-island officers.
Appropriations included in the bill, which total some $14.6 million, allow for the hiring of 250 new officers, the purchase of a new 911 system and the funding of territorywide promotions.
"At the Department of Justice, we believe that this piece of legislation is a very significant addition to Gov. John P. deJongh's arsenal of weapons in the battle to reduce crime in the Virgin Islands," Frazer said. McCall, along with Assistant Police Commissioner Novelle Francis, added that the bill augments VIPD's five-year strategic plan and allows the department to take a more proactive approach to handling criminal activity.
While there was no opposition to the bill, senators did make it clear that they would be expecting an increase in the department's performance once additional resources are provided.
"The VIPD must come with a specific plan for how they expect to reduce crime," said Sen. Basil Ottley Jr. "We really have to be able to assess the effectiveness of what we're doing, because we're giving you the chance to hire more officers without any performance standards or idea as to the failures of the department. That's the kind of information I need in order to make decisions about whether or not to increase your work force."
Echoing Ottley's comments, Sen. Louis P. Hill added that VIPD should work on filling its current vacant positions before dealing with the recruitment of 250 new officers. "It is absolutely impossible, I think, for you to fill all the vacant positions you have now before the end of this fiscal year," he said. "So appropriating another $7 million for new positions is problematic, and I think we have to look carefully at what we're trying to do and when we're trying to do it."
Hill also expressed concern about another section of the bill that proposes to reduce, by $9.9 million, a $40 million appropriation to the Government Employees Retirement System. Hill said the appropriation was included in the miscellaneous section of the FY 2007 budget to either pay off debt-service requirements for pension obligation bonds floated by the government, or cover a portion of the system's annual loss in contributions.
In December, the Senate authorized the government to issue up to $600 million in pension obligation bonds to pay down GERS' more than $1 billion unfunded liability. During last year's budget hearings, members of the government's fiscal team explained that an annual $40 million General Fund appropriation is necessary to cover the debt-service requirement.
However, Dowe explained on Wednesday that members of the fiscal team recently amended the figure to $30.5 million, freeing up the remaining $9.9 million for some of the initiatives included in the proposed crime bill. " We're not taking any money directly away from GERS," he said. "But if the money is necessary, then we'll let it be."
Referencing another section of the bill, which allows the Police commissioner to offer off-island recruits an up-to $3,000 signing bonus, Hill further suggested that senators look at extending financial incentives to local prospects.
Listening to issues raised by LESU President Lt. Edmund Thompson — who indicated that VIPD's rank-and-file members may be negatively impacted by the hiring of off-island recruits — senators said they would also have to look at what provisions are currently laid out in the officers' collective bargaining agreements.
Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Carmen Wesselhoft said that more meetings will be held to discuss the bill once changes are made.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Dowe, Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Ottley, Alvin L. Williams and Wesselhoft.
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March 28, 2007 -- A comprehensive crime bill that, among other things, establishes a formal witness protection program and appropriates money for 250 new officers throughout the territory, garnered much support Wednesday from various law enforcement officials. However, senators decided to hold the bill in the Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee until certain changes and additions are made.
According to Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, the bill's sponsor, new amendments would free up funds for the V.I. Police Department to hire a recruitment officer in each district, set up a cold case squad designed to reduce the number of unsolved crimes and possibly re-establish the police auxiliary force.
Dowe added that the bill's current language may also be changed to incorporate suggestions made during Wednesday's hearing by Police Commissioner James H. McCall and Attorney General Vincent Frazer, along with representatives from the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union (LESU).
As presently written, major sections of the bill: a) establish a Witness Protection Board and Witness Protection Program within the Department of Justice; b) outline what authority is given to the board, attorney general and police commissioner through the program; c) allow the police commissioner to offer bonuses to officers seeking early retirement; and d) set up policies for the recruitment of off-island officers.
Appropriations included in the bill, which total some $14.6 million, allow for the hiring of 250 new officers, the purchase of a new 911 system and the funding of territorywide promotions.
"At the Department of Justice, we believe that this piece of legislation is a very significant addition to Gov. John P. deJongh's arsenal of weapons in the battle to reduce crime in the Virgin Islands," Frazer said. McCall, along with Assistant Police Commissioner Novelle Francis, added that the bill augments VIPD's five-year strategic plan and allows the department to take a more proactive approach to handling criminal activity.
While there was no opposition to the bill, senators did make it clear that they would be expecting an increase in the department's performance once additional resources are provided.
"The VIPD must come with a specific plan for how they expect to reduce crime," said Sen. Basil Ottley Jr. "We really have to be able to assess the effectiveness of what we're doing, because we're giving you the chance to hire more officers without any performance standards or idea as to the failures of the department. That's the kind of information I need in order to make decisions about whether or not to increase your work force."
Echoing Ottley's comments, Sen. Louis P. Hill added that VIPD should work on filling its current vacant positions before dealing with the recruitment of 250 new officers. "It is absolutely impossible, I think, for you to fill all the vacant positions you have now before the end of this fiscal year," he said. "So appropriating another $7 million for new positions is problematic, and I think we have to look carefully at what we're trying to do and when we're trying to do it."
Hill also expressed concern about another section of the bill that proposes to reduce, by $9.9 million, a $40 million appropriation to the Government Employees Retirement System. Hill said the appropriation was included in the miscellaneous section of the FY 2007 budget to either pay off debt-service requirements for pension obligation bonds floated by the government, or cover a portion of the system's annual loss in contributions.
In December, the Senate authorized the government to issue up to $600 million in pension obligation bonds to pay down GERS' more than $1 billion unfunded liability. During last year's budget hearings, members of the government's fiscal team explained that an annual $40 million General Fund appropriation is necessary to cover the debt-service requirement.
However, Dowe explained on Wednesday that members of the fiscal team recently amended the figure to $30.5 million, freeing up the remaining $9.9 million for some of the initiatives included in the proposed crime bill. " We're not taking any money directly away from GERS," he said. "But if the money is necessary, then we'll let it be."
Referencing another section of the bill, which allows the Police commissioner to offer off-island recruits an up-to $3,000 signing bonus, Hill further suggested that senators look at extending financial incentives to local prospects.
Listening to issues raised by LESU President Lt. Edmund Thompson -- who indicated that VIPD's rank-and-file members may be negatively impacted by the hiring of off-island recruits -- senators said they would also have to look at what provisions are currently laid out in the officers' collective bargaining agreements.
Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Carmen Wesselhoft said that more meetings will be held to discuss the bill once changes are made.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Dowe, Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Ottley, Alvin L. Williams and Wesselhoft.
Back Talk


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.