April 26, 2004 – Lack of police resources and apathy stood out as the primary problems in fighting crime in Frederiksted, at a meeting called Sunday to discuss ways to improve the perception that the town is unsafe.
"The perception still lingers that, if you come to Frederiksted, you will be robbed, mugged or have your purse stolen," Al Franklin, president of Our Town Frederiksted, said. "The persistent nagging of drug-related activities is what you see. People feel intimidated and threatened by those who mingle."
Elton Lewis, police commissioner, who had been invited to address the meeting, said lack of funding and resources are problems. Lewis said he needs 200 additional officers territory-wide. He is requesting funding for 100 in 2004 and another 100 in 2005. Lewis said 98 percent of the present budget is for personnel and fringe benefits. Even so, recruiting qualified personnel is a constant problem.
If 10 applicants take the police exam, he said, half fail and three more on average are lost in drug testing, psychological examination or agility testing during the 26 weeks of intense training.
Lewis said he has attempted to recruit from other places, but has run into expensive bureaucratic roadblocks involving airfare and the need for recruits to make repeated visits to the territory. He offered that until the cumbersome process of screening new recruits is streamlined, drawing personnel from off-island wouldn't be successful. He added, "There is very little I can say here today that I have not already said."
The problem was aggravated, some feel, when the Wilbur Francis Command Police station was moved outside of town to Mars Hill a few months ago.
Herminio Velasquez, St. Croix deputy police chief, said three, bicycle-patrol teams currently cover Frederiksted. But Catherine Milligan-Terrell, president of St. Patrick's Catholic School Alumni Association, host of the Sunday meeting, urged the commissioner to provide a satellite police station in the town.
She said after a robbery last week in the mall next to her waterfront business police could not be located on the streets.
In response to the poor turnout of residents for Sunday's meeting, Wayne "Bully" Petersen, Our Town Frederiksted member and housing tenant representative, said it wasn't apathy, as some believed. He said residents fear the police.
Police were seen as enforcers, Petersen said, not as peacemakers.
He said officers like "Speedy" George Washington were revered in the past, but nowadays, residents feared "getting involved" because the criminals seemed to be linked to some police officers.
Alex Johnson of the Interfaith Coalition had a different view of the poor turnout, "I don't think because the hall is not filled that people don't care," Johnson said, "They feel they won't get a response."
But Frederiksted businesswoman Ann Abramson was less sympathetic. "They are saying it's acceptable," she said. "This was well publicized."
Although invitations went out to churches, taxi drivers, commissioners, Our Town Frederiksted, Rotary West, the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, Frederiksted Economic Development Association, all of the Senators, only 30 people showed up none of them Senators or commissioners, other than Lewis.
Chamber of Commerce president Anna Maria Hector was present, along with key people from community-based organizations
"Frederiksted was a beautiful, striving community of people who showed concern for one another and the community around them," businesswoman Evelyn James said, but added that over the years she has been unable to secure tenants for her rental property in the town. "People feel unsafe. They don't want to park their cars on the street." The design of the town did not make accommodations for vehicle parking within the property boundaries.
After years of gradual decline amongst the homes, buildings and the overalltown, the alumni association membership has decided that the only way to see change is to initiate it themselves.
Six steering committees were formed to target specific areas of concern; Health and Mental Health, Interfaith-based Groups, Community Organizations, Membership Drive, Public Relations and Law Enforcement.
Through a grant received from Law Enforcement Planning Commission, the association is rehabilitating an adjacent building secured from the Housing Finance Authority to be used as a community center.
Milligan-Terrell said the center will service, not only the Fritz Lawaetz Housing community across the street from the St. Patrick's school, but round-trip transportation services will be provided to the public housing communities of Marley and Ludvig Harrigan to Walter I.M. Hodge approximately two miles away.
In the end, participants also agreed to support the police commissioner in his efforts by lobbying to make Senators and all public officials accountable.
At the next alumni association meeting on May 16, Kevin Rames is expected to give a presentation on the William and Punch resort project. Milligan-Terrell said Sunday she supports the project, but wants to make sure that it incorporates the people of St. Croix, specifically Frederiksted.
Milligan-Rowe called upon the approximately 200 alumni members worldwide to roll up their sleeves and join the association's mission to revitalize Frederiksted. For more information contact Anastacia Doward at email@example.com or call 340- 772-4018.
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