May 26, 2006 — Juveniles are the prime suspects in recent carjacking incidents, police officials told a group of Christiansted residents at a town meeting Thursday evening.
"We have an active problem with juveniles," said Territorial Police Chief Novelle Francis, addressing more than 50 people gathered for the meeting at the Pearl B. Larsen School auditorium. The meeting was called in response to a request by several neighborhood crime watch organizations concerned by recent burglaries, carjackings and individuals using vehicles with blinking lights and sirens imitating unmarked police vehicles. (See "VIPD Warn Motorists About Criminals Posing as Police Officers").
Several suspects have been detained in some of the carjacking incidents which have occurred in Gentle Winds, Carambola, and the South and North shore roads, according to police.
"These minors, they have weapons," said Francis. "These are youngsters that don't care." Francis urged residents to report all incidences to the Police so the department can continue the investigations.
Sgt. Arthur Hector, Juvenile Division supervisor, said arrests of minors are increasing. "There were 10 arrests in April and 42 so far in May." Hector said the juvenile arrests stem from charges of automobile infractions, hit and runs, robberies and burglaries. "That is what we are up against," said Hector.
Police officials said the increase in juvenile arrests comes with consequences. "YRC is full now," Francis said, referring to the Youth Rehabilitation Center located in Estate Anna's Hope. Francis said YRC takes the "worst" and other suspects are released into the custody of their parents "depending on the situation."
Francis said this is not the first time a rash of carjackings has occurred on the island. He said some of the crimes may have been committed by people who were "recently released from jail."
Police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Hannah advised the public to "put safety first" while driving. He said if a driver is approached by an unmarked vehicle with flashing lights, he or she should drive to a well-lit area or to the nearest police or government building, such as the hospital or the fire station, and "make noise" by honking the horn.
Drivers can also use their cell phone to call 911 to determine if the vehicle following them is indeed a police vehicle. Hannah said cell phone users should call 772-9111 to reach the St. Croix police dispatch or 776-9110 for St. Thomas police dispatch.
Some of the residents attending the meeting complained of the lack of police presence in the East End.
Lt. Mary Duggan, who has jurisdiction over the area from Ville La Reine to the East End, said there is "no standardized patrol in the East End area." However, other East End residents said police cars could be seen regularly patrolling the area.
Reilly Waugh, Police grants manager, said the Legislature appropriated funds for mobile substations on all three islands.
"The bids are in but OMB says the money is not available," Waugh said, referring to the Office of Management and Budget, whose mission, according to its Web site is "to promote the most effective and efficient use of the territory's resources, by the executive branch departments and agencies, while accomplishing the policy and program objectives of the governor and Legislature."
Waugh said his office is working on a grant to equip the mobile substations with the necessary technology. "We expect to see them [the substations] on island by the turn of the year," said Waugh.
Waugh said that adding to the problem of juvenile crime is the lack of counseling, supervision programs and drug treatment services for minors. "We don't have enough," said Waugh.
Cpl. Sheila Middleton, community crime prevention program supervisor, put the blame on the parents. "It's not the children's fault, it's the parents'. We have some real dysfunctional families here," said Middleton.
Representatives of several neighborhood watch organizations attended the meeting, including Carden Beach, Turner Hole, Salt River, Queens Quarters, Coakley Bay, South Gate Hill and Estate Welcome.
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