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Police Morale Low Because of Overtime Pay, Equipment Issues

April 30, 2008 — Police union representatives told the Senate Public Safety Committee Wednesday officer morale is low due to cutbacks on overtime pay, need for new equipment and the perception that Police Commissioner James McCall won't meet with them enough.
The committee met in Frederiksted for an oversight hearing. No votes were taken.
"Commissioner McCall has refused to speak to the union," said Lt. Arthur Hector, a former president of the St. Croix chapter of the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union (LESU). "McCall has found, in his wisdom, to refuse to pay us to come out on call, indicating we are killing his budget."
McCall told him not to rack up overtime while at the scene of a homicide, Hector said. Lower-ranking officers more more overtime money than some supervisors, hurting supervisor morale, he added.
McCall is out of the territory. Acting Police Commissioner Novelle Francis said he personally meets often with union representatives. Hector and other union representatives agreed, but they want to meet with McCall.
Francis described the overtime issue as "a balancing act" between the need for officers on the street and the limited money available to pay overtime.
"We are budgeted $4.5 million for overtime this year, and we have already eaten up most of that, up to $4 million," Francis said. "If we continue on this track, we will be well over our budget."
Lower-ranking officers have more leeway with overtime because they are paid less, so their overtime costs less, Francis said.
"We still have to be fiscally responsible," he said. "It is better to not allow them to work the overtime than to allow them to work, then not pay them. And captains and lieutenants are at least allowed 10 hours of overtime."
Outdated and poorly functioning radios and worn out bulletproof vests are putting officers at risk, said Lt. Joseph A. Gumbs, president of the St. Thomas LESU.
"What is it going to take, someone dying because of the communication system for our guys to take this seriously?" Gumbs said.
Vests have been selected and officers are being fitted now, Francis said. Communications are a work in progress, he said.
"Radio communications has been a weak link," Francis said. "A complete overhaul of the 911 system and corrections to our basic communications ability are currently in process."
Gov. John deJongh Jr. has made an overhaul of the 911 emergency-response service a goal by the end of the year, Francis noted. The Bureau of Information Technology, under the Office of the Governor, is negotiating with IBM on the subject, he said.
Sens. Usie R. Richards and Celestino A. White were sharply critical of the slow pace of progress on some police department goals. Richards said police radio towers had been built several years ago but were apparently not operational. Francis said they are functional towers but need antennas, which would be part of the upcoming communications overhaul.
White rattled off 15 department goals listed by McCall during his Senate confirmation hearing, items ranging from 911 service to establishing a crime lab, asking Francis which ones were complete. Francis said "working on it" to most of the items, and "done" on three, prompting White to give McCall a grade of "F-minus."
Differences aside and pressing needs notwithstanding, both labor and management told the senators the police department is making strides in community relations, getting guns off the street, making arrests and cutting into violent crime.
Attending the hearing were Richards, White, Sens. Carmen M. Wesselhoft, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, James Weber III, Alvin L. Williams, Liston A. Davis and Norman Jn Baptiste.
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