Acting Police Commissioner Henry White isn’t letting any moss grow under his feet. Since Gov. John deJongh Jr. nominated him to replace retired Commissioner Novelle Francis last month, White has been working to get to know the community, and to let the community know him.
After meeting with reporters from several news outlets last week, he met Monday with board members of the Hotel and Tourism Association on St. Thomas, giving the members some insight into the strategies he intends to employ as head of the Virgin Islands Police Department, as well sharing his background and policing philosophies.
“Don’t think I am going to be the Lone Ranger coming in to save the day,” White said as he addressed the group. “This is a team effort and it will take the entire community to achieve this. No one will be excluded.”
VIPD Public Information Officer Melody Rames said the goal is to let the community get to know the man intended to be the territory’s top cop. She said he will appear at schools, PTAs, civic groups, clubs, and other organizations.
"He wants to get the community familiar with who he is and what his philosophy is," Rames said. Moreover, this is not a short-term effort, she added.
"This isn’t going to stop once we go through the Senate confirmation," she said. "It’s not just for the benefit of the Senate hearings. This introduction will continue throughout his tenure. It’s important for the police department to maintain close contacts with the community. Having the commissioner be a visible, active part of the community is important."
At Monday’s meeting, Hotel and Tourism Board members Richard Doumeng, Nick Purzal, Joel Kling, Lisa Hamilton, and Judy Nagelberg welcomed the new commissioner, then sat down and began asking questions.
As of Monday’s meeting, White had only been in the territory 21 days as acting commissioner. White revealed that this is not his first time to the VI.
“I came here first in the early 1960s on a US Navy aircraft carrier,” White said. After visiting the Virgin Islands several times while in the Navy, he returned on several family trips.
He sought to clarify the impression some community members have of him being a federal agent.
“I understand the suspicion against outsiders and against federal agents,” White said. “However, I am not federal. I started as a New Jersey police officer walking the beat with a call box key. I’ve worked in law enforcement at a local, county, state, and federal level. Recently, I served as chief of police in Georgia. Accepting this opportunity to be police commissioner of the VIPD is a natural progression in my career. I have a great appreciation of cops. I am one.”
White said morale on the V.I. force is at a very low point, and commended the officers for how they’ve handled it.
“The officers are very upset about the 8 percent pay cut,” he said, observing that in other jurisdictions officers likely would have walked off the job. “I congratulate them because they are obviously not in this profession solely for the money.”
Law enforcement in the Virgin Islands is unique, White said, and you have to be a very special and dedicated officer to work in the islands.
“The unique thing about the V.I. is that we all occupy the same space – the police officers, the law abiding citizens, and the lawbreakers. We cannot work in one area and live in another like people can in the states, and you have generations of your family here; you don’t want to go anywhere, so we have to find a way to live in harmony."
Wednesday, the commissioner designate sat in the studio of radio station WSTX with radio host and former senator Holland Redfield taking calls from listeners. Not all the listeners were happy, chiding him from coming here from outside, and for the executive order raising the salaries of commissioners.
That was also an issue at a town hall meeting Wednesday night, when Sen. Neville James said he has already made up his mind to vote against White because of the salary issue with no other consideration.
Told of James’s position, Rames commented Thursday, "Acting Commissioner White is pleased that Sen. James is not objecting based on merit. Obviously, Sen. James recognizes the qualifications, skills, and background Mr. White brings to the VIPD. We look forward to continuing the dialogue at the upcoming Rules and full Senate meetings."