Members of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs agreed with Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor Friday that gun violence in the territory must decrease and more guns have to be stopped at the point of entry.
They just did not agree with all his methods.
In his testimony Friday, Velinor touted the department’s partnership with the Port Authority and the Department of Tourism to introduce a firearms substation at the Cyril E. King Airport and the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
“Our experience confirms that firearms are secreted within luggage and then brought into the territory, ending up on our streets to commit acts of violence. We will proactively investigate these cases and create a presence at the entry points.”
Sen. Kenneth Gittens said substations at the airports would just “duplicate services.” He said police officers needed to be out on the streets and in the community instead of sitting around in an office waiting for planes to land. Velinor said officer hours at the airport would be coordinated with flight arrivals.
Gittens said it was the Port Authority’s responsibility to stop illegal firearms from passing through the airport, adding that there were more signs at the airports about “No Dogs Allowed” then there were signs instructing arriving passengers what they must legally do to bring a firearm into the territory.
Sen. Athneil Thomas also took issue with what he saw as a lack of seriousness in the islands’ approach to the issue.
“We are not taking gun violence seriously,” he said.
The territory took COVID-19 serious and there have been only 20 COVID deaths, he said, but so far this year there have been 40 homicides.
Velinor testified that the department cut overtime pay by $9 million this year. Sen. Dwayne DeGraff questioned whether it was wise to be cutting overtime when violent crime was on the increase. Velinor said he saw no “correlation” between the crime increase and the cutting of overtime pay.
Sen. Novelle Francis said he was pleased that the installation of surveillance cameras in the territory, a project he has advocated, was going forward. Velinor said it would be complete in April.
However, Francis, himself a career policeman and former commissioner, said he was not pleased that the department showed only nine arrests in the 40 homicide cases. That was only 22 percent, and stateside the percentage was over 70 percent, he said.
Velinor said he did not believe that the stateside percentage was as high as 70 percent.
Velinor was also questioned about the acquisition of drones for police use. He said one had been donated for use on St. Croix and the department was looking to purchase one for the St. Thomas/St. John district.
DeGraff asked about a canine the department had purchased a couple of years back which he said was never delivered. Velinor said the department had paid $10,000 for the dog but had never picked it up. The vendor started charging a boarding rate of $65 a day and the boarding bill was now near $20,000. He said the department would probably never pick up the dog.
Daryl D. Jaschen, director of the Territorial Emergency Management Agency, testified the 911 system had been funded from both the general fund and from a fee the FCC charges monthly to mobile and land-line subscribers. VITEMA receives 40 percent, or 80 cents, of the $2 monthly fee, and the Fire Service and Emergency Management Services split the other 60 percent, or $1.20.
“The Territorial Public Service Commission provides regulatory oversight for payment of the fees for land-lines subscribers but does not have authority over any of the mobile phone subscribers.”
Sen. Steven Payne Sr. chaired the hearing. Also in attendance were Sens. Oakland Benta, DeGraff, Francis, Stedmann Hodge, Gittens, and Thomas. Sen. Myron Jackson, not a member of the committee, also attended.