Members of the Smith Bay Community Action Foundation took the first steps towards curtailing crime in the area Thursday morning during a three-hour meeting with V.I. Police Commissioner Delroy Richards at Richard Callwood Command.
“I think it went well,” the commissioner said afterwards. “We had a very lengthy meeting where we all sat and exchanged ideas. They outlined to me their basic concerns and we had a very frank discussion.”
Violent crime is the major problem in the area, according to Roy Chesterfield, Smith Bay Community Action Foundation president and a VIPD officer.
“The problem is crime,” said Chesterfield. “That is the number one issue and it has everyone in fear. We know there have been homicides and many unsolved cases which causes everyone to wonder what kind of crime fighting measures are being put in place.”
Proactive crime fighting strategies are needed, Chesterfield said.
“As community leaders, we believe we need to see more proactive crime fighting strategies put in place to stimulate some type of action from the community to fight against the criminal element,” he said. “We also want to en-courage the police to come up with other ideas to help release some of this tension that is proliferating in certain individuals who want to take street justice into their own hands.”
Increasing the amount of cash rewards for Crime Stoppers USVI tipsters and increasing the number of traffic stops in the Smith Bay area were two measures discussed at Thursday’s meeting, according to Chesterfield.
“One of the things that we looked at was Crime Stoppers,” said Chesterfield. “We know it’s a good tool that provides information to the Police Department and we decided that to be more effective the payouts have to be higher.”
Crime Stoppers pays $2,500 and Chesterfield said, “we need to increase that to $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the crime. Homicide tips should pay between $10,000 and $15,000,” he said.
“We have a lot of unsolved murders and we want to stimulate the community to share information,”
Smith Bay Community Action Foundation member and fellow VIPD Officer Bruce Flamon, who also attended Thursday’s meeting, agreed that Crime Stoppers USVI needs to be strengthened.
“Crime Stoppers is good, but it is very weak and it needs to be increased,” said Flamon. “In Texas, it’s $30,000 for a homicide. We need to stop depending on people’s good will and we need to start appealing to their greed to turn people in.”
“Increasing Crime Stoppers reward money will solve a lot of cold cases and will bring in more investigators,” Flamon said. “We need to have more people solving these unsolved crimes and I think we can do that by increasing Crime Stoppers.”
Commissioner Richards said Crime Stoppers USVI funding comes from the private sector and a representative of that group would need to be addressed for information about increasing cash rewards.
Increasing the number of traffic stops in the Smith Bay neighborhood will alert criminals that police are in the area, Flamon said.
“In the Smith Bay community, we want to see more traffic stops,” he said. “This community has become lawless with traffic. People run through stop signs and traffic lights and they travel at high rates of speed because they don’t see any officers making any traffic stops. We asked the commissioner to make more traffic stops in Smith Bay.”
While stopping short of promising more vehicle stops in Smith Bay, Commissioner Richards said he would not use the department’s staffing problems as an excuse.
“We looked at the resources that the police department has and the initiatives of the police department,” said Richards. “I was very frank with them and I explained to them the situation that we are confronted with. But we are not just going to roll over and use staffing as an excuse for not doing anything.”
Richards said he planned to launch a citizens advisory committee to meet with his office on a monthly basis.
“Many years ago when I was police chief we had a citizens advisory committee and we would meet once a month and they would have various segments of the community there."
Chesterfield said the department plans to continue the community dialogue monthly meetings.
The neighborhood won’t become safer without the community’s support, Chesterfield continued.
“We, as a community and as community leaders, must help.”
Foundation members were upbeat about the future of the neighborhood.
Chesterfield said, “I will do everything in my power to ensure that Smith Bay has a chance. That is the sentiment we were echoing to the commissioner so that he could understand our plight and how we want to achieve these goals in combating the criminal element.”
Flamon was also confident in Richards’ dedication to reducing crime in the Smith Bay area.
“After the meeting we were overwhelmed,” Flamon said. “The commissioner is so knowledgeable and able. He’s put together a good team and I’m very pleased with the outcome of our meeting.”
Sam Rey, the group’s vice president, said, “As long as I’m a part of this group, we’re going to do the best we can, as a community and a foundation, to ensure that we see positive change in Smith Bay.”
Chesterfield said he hoped that, Smith Bay residents would be able to relax in their homes.
“This is very important to me and the community,” he said. “I want to relax and feel safe. That is the ultimate goal. That is what we all want.”
The meeting was attended by 10 people. In addition to Chesterfield, Flamon, Roy and Richards, VIPD Chief Darren Foy, Sgt. Connow, Special Assistant to the Commissioner Kenneth Blake and Senator Patrick Sprauve attended the meeting. Representing the faith community was Pastor Weekes of Paradise Covenant Ministries, and the business sector was represented by Mike Lampie, owner of Paradise Cove.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Police Commissioner Delroy Richards.