May 28, 2009 — Gov. John deJongh Jr. Thursday announced a major shift of the Police Department's top brass, naming Novelle Francis Jr. police commissioner in a move he said would re-focus the department's local crime fighting strategies.
Francis's appointment is effective immediately, replacing Commissioner James H. McCall who will soon take a position within the Justice Department to give him more leeway in fighting organized crime. McCall is off-island, so details of the new job will be worked out upon his return, the governor said.
DeJongh said McCall has done a "tremendous job" in mending relations between VIPD and Justice and has continued to work alongside the attorney general over the past couple of years in putting together and helping to prosecute various criminal cases. Police have had greater success in confiscating illegal guns, making arrests and getting community members to come forward with information, he added.
But the successes should also be measured against the shortcomings — and not only the shortcomings of the police department, but also of the community, deJongh said.
"We all have more to do," the governor said. "And we have to do it before more of our young people end up dead or in jail, or worse, before some innocent person is hurt. We have made some progress, but nowhere near enough. We are going to be trying to do more of what works and less of what seems to be habit or routine, and a little more."
On the government side, that means knowing what tactics work in each district, and implementing them territory-wide. It means getting the guns off the streets, along with the people whose pockets they come out of. It means increasing the number of police officers in the department and seeing success reports coming out police initiatives, such as traffic blocks. And it also means taking a hard line on people who violate their bail conditions, before they go out and commit another crime, deJongh said.
"I want our police officers to earn the respect of our residents by raising the levels of their performance and their civility and acting with the pride that we should rightfully aspire to as Virgin Islanders," he added. "And I want us to able to gather again by year's end and report on progress, on results."
Leading the Police Department is going to take a change in attitude and acceptance of responsibility, deJongh said to Francis Thursday.
"It is time for all of us, with your leadership and the hard work of your department, its staff and officers, to put fear in the lives of these individuals," he added. "And I demand, and this community demands, that you get rid of those who either cannot or will not do the job you ask of them."
While laying out his plans to revitalize the department by improving employee morale, among other things, Francis responded to questions and comments about corruption within the police ranks — specifically, the recent arrest of Police Sgt. Jerome Blyden — by saying that he will apply "one code of ethics" across the board, starting with officers on the front line and extending to the commanders and supervisors behind the scenes.
"My endeavor is to revive the energy of the police force, to rejuvenate our focus and purpose, and to provide a renewed sense of directive action against crime," he said Thursday. "We will dis-empower those who inflict harm on the people of this territory. No more will we allow children to be caught in the crossfire, no longer are law-abiding residents to be hostages in their homes, and not one more traveler is to become captive on an unwarranted battlefield."
Along with cracking down on minor violations — such as speeding, failing to use seatbelts and using cell phones while driving — the department's focus will be on guns, drugs and gang activity. New software that uses geographical mapping and information systems will be used to pinpoint high crime areas, showing officers where to concentrate their efforts. A "shot spotter," or camera system that can identify the location of shots as they're fired will also be employed, and will help to identify and prosecute criminals, he said.
Deputy chiefs in each district will be required to put together an "aggressive" action plan for curbing the sale, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs. Meanwhile, a tactical anti-gang intervention coordinator will be appointed to deal with local gang issues and will help to design gang enforcement legislation, Francis said. To help in the effort, VIPD will coordinate programs with Education and Human Services, he added.
Monitoring nightclubs, re-enforcing community oriented policing and making sure new recruits maintain more of a presence on the streets during their first six months on the job, were some other initiatives listed by Francis Thursday.
Committees will be formed to help deal with issues such as the recent audit on VIPD's evidence lockers and the federal consent decree that came out of an investigation into the department's internal affairs procedures and training programs, among other things. The department is in the process of finalizing a lease for a new evidence room on St. Thomas and will refurbish its facilities on St. Croix, Francis said later.
Local, state and federal law enforcement representatives will also sit together on a task force and "collectively conference" on how to cut down crime within the territory, he said.
At this point, Francis said he doesn't anticipate switching up the districts' police chiefs. But an assistant commissioner will soon have to be named, he added.
Francis has served within the department for 22 years, and has held every position within its ranking structure, deJongh said Thursday.
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