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Police Commissioner, Attorney General Promise Unified Stance in Fight Against Crime

Feb. 27, 2007 — If confirmed by the full Senate body, the territory's new police commissioner and attorney general will forge ahead with a partnership designed to reduce and effectively prosecute criminal cases.
During a recent Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee meeting, attorney general-designee Vincent Frazer said that he and police commissioner-designee James McCall have "pledged" to unite their respective departments in the common goal of "successfully putting criminals behind bars."
Frazer said this includes encouraging witnesses to come forward and provide the VIPD with critical information relating to criminal activity and developing a secure witness protection program.
On the Department of Justice side, new prosecutors will be hired — including assistant attorneys general, paralegals and investigators — to try cases. Frazer said he is currently searching for training opportunities for the new employees, who will also be provided with the chance to take continuing education classes.
McCall said a new Justice-VIPD relationship will also bolster ongoing efforts to create a local intelligence unit. "It's going to be a combined effort, one where we will also be calling upon a number of federal agencies to provide us with information," he said.
McCall added that the Police Department does know where the territory's high-crime areas are and is in the process of addressing issues such as drug and weapons trafficking. "That's one of the reasons we are set on having closer relationships with other law enforcement agencies in the territory," he said.
While the local and federal partnerships are necessary, both departments still have their own separate needs. Both McCall and Frazer said that if confirmed, they would be looking to the Legislature to appropriate the funds needed to hire additional staff and purchase some much-needed equipment.
Police Problems
In a detailed presentation to senators, McCall said the Police Department's most critical problem is a shortage of officers. "Our manpower shortage has created an urgent need to increase our management power strength to about 600 officers. As such, we need to hire 150 officers for the St. Thomas-St. John-Water Island district and 100 more officers for St. Croix," he said.
While McCall said the department will be hiring a recruiter to fill some of the much-needed positions, he added that a comprehensive territorial recruitment program must also be set up and properly funded. The program would establish a more refined screening process and speed up the training process for new recruits, he said.
The department's manpower shortage has put the department "in a quandary," added Novelle Francis, who was recently tapped by Gov. John deJongh Jr. to fill the position of assistant police commissioner. Francis explained that in an effort to increase police visibility on the streets, officers were often forced to extend their 16-hour workday.
However, this practice simultaneously ate into the department's budget, as officers working additional hours were also given overtime pay. "It definitely puts us in a difficult position," Francis said. "On one hand, allowing the officers to go beyond the 16-hour limit eats up the budget, so we can't afford to hire anyone else. On the other hand, we need the coverage."
Officers racked up $2.3 million in overtime during fiscal year 2005, and $3.4 million in FY 2006, officials said. To reduce costs, both McCall and Francis suggested that senators either increase the amount of funding appropriated for new positions or increase the VIPD's overtime budget.
McCall also said the territory's 911 system is "obsolete" and needs to be replaced; that a maintenance manager needs to be hired at the Alexander A. Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex; and that there is a demand for additional dogs in the departments K-9 unit.
State of the Department of Justice
"The present state of the Department of Justice is precarious. It's amazing that it has not yet imploded under the weight of its problems," Frazer told senators during the meeting. "The department is rife with organizational problems, tremendous staff shortages on every level, low employee morale, misaligned managers and a lack of adequate tools, books and equipment, just to name a few."
Frazer added that since he has unofficially taken up the post of attorney general, he has discovered that some divisions within the department are also functioning without up-to-date resources, bookkeepers, accountants or support staff.
However, the need to increase the salaries of prosecutors, assistant attorneys general and other employees is one of the department's more pressing issues, Frazer explained. While Justice is in the process of hiring 11 new prosecutors, money is still needed to hire at least three investigators, along with support staff, such as paralegals and secretaries.
Frazer said he would need the Legislature to appropriate funds to make employees' salaries more competitive. "We must have attractive salaries, which will entice the best candidates to work in the Department of Justice," he said. "So, I will need your help … otherwise, we will continue to lose our best prosecutors to the U.S. Attorney's Office and to other agencies."

Present during Monday's hearing were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Richards, Alvin L. Williams, Carmen M. Wesselhoft and Celestino A. White Sr.
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