Feb. 7, 2003 – In the face of flak from a Christiansted business group over government security cameras being installed on St. John before St. Croix, Acting Gov. Vargrave Richards ordered on Friday that the contractor get the cameras for St. Croix up and running as soon as possible.
The Christiansted Restaurant and Retail Association put up $5,000 almost two years ago to fund the writing of a successful grant proposal for cameras to be set up on St. Croix.
The U.S. Justice Department approved $369,000 for the project but required that the money go to a government entity, rather than the not-for-profit St. Croix Foundation for Community Development that submitted the grant application.
Julia Renfro, Restaurant and Retail Association president, said the Law Enforcement Planning Commission agreed to receive the grant last year — but then proceeded to split the money up to provide cameras for St. Thomas and St. John as well as St. Croix.
"We gave [the money] to them, and they stole it," Renfro said.
She noted that police officials have said St. Croix is 100 officers short of being adequately staffed but said the situation is not so dire on St. Thomas and St. John. "Our lives are in danger here," she said. "We do not have a large enough police force. The least they can do is give us cameras."
Last September, the V.I. government awarded a contract to a local security company to install the cameras — 48 of them on St. Croix, 18 on St. Thomas and six on St. John — within 45 days, meaning a deadline of Oct. 25. "The funds were released and the security cameras were supposed to start going up by the end of October so we could prove to the cruise ship industry that we're as good as our word," Renfro said.
Most of St. Croix's scheduled cruise ship visits for the next two years were canceled last spring, with cruise lines citing crimes against passengers and crew as a major concern. In an effort to get the companies to rethink their decision, one of the promises the government made to the cruise ship industry was to make the island safer for visitors.
In a statement issued on Friday, Richards termed the camera installation on St. Croix "an essential part of the crime-fighting effort."
The security cameras provide an almost 360-degree view of their surrounding area. They are bulletproof, have infrared capability and can be taken down in the event of a hurricane.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron said last September that the cameras had proven to be an effective crime-prevention measure in several mainland cities. Following their installation in Baltimore, he said then, crime there dropped by 90 percent. At that same time, Police Commissioner Franz Christian said police officers would monitor the areas covered by the cameras around the clock
After cameras were installed in Ybor City, a historic downtown section of Tampa, Florida, they were challenged in court as a violation of people's civil rights. The court rejected the argument, the cameras remained in place, and since then, crime in the area has greatly decreased.
Stridiron said evidence obtained via the cameras would be admissible in court. He also said the Police Department will establish stringent rules and regulations regarding police use of the surveillance technology. He said the officers monitoring the screens will undergo specific training and that the equipment will be tested and calibrated often.
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