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Violent Crime Rate High, But Police Making More Arrests

Oct. 9, 2008 — Arrests are up, more guns are being removed from the streets and community cooperation with police is on the upswing, though violent crime itself remains at record levels, police officials said Wednesday at the Police Department's quasi-monthly press conference on St. Croix.
Taking a turn at the podium were Police Commissioner James McCall, Assistant Commissioner Novelle Francis and district police chiefs Oakland Benta (acting) and Rodney Querrard. They revealed some preliminary new crime and arrest data and trumpeted recent police initiatives and successes during the gathering, which took place in the conference room of the Police Operations and Administrative Services Building in Hannah's Rest.
"Police are starting to turn the tide," Francis said. "They are going the extra mile to solve crimes."
Murder arrests nearly doubled this calendar year from last, Francis said. In all of 2007, police arrested suspects in seven homicide cases; three have been convicted and four await trial. So far in 2008, suspects have been arrested in 12 cases; one has been convicted and 11 await trial, with more than two months to go before the end of the year.
Francis attributed the increase in arrests and the 100-percent conviction rate to good police work and a better working relationship between the Attorney General's Office and the V.I. Police Department.
"This is something we are proud of and will remain steadfast on," he said.
Crime itself shows a more mixed picture, with St. Croix faring a little better than St. Thomas. The department categorizes crime in two groups: crimes against persons, such as homicides, rape, robbery and felony assault; and property crimes such as burglary, grand larceny, vehicle theft and arson. This fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, St. Croix showed a reduction in six categories over the previous fiscal year: homicide, rape, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and vehicle theft. A slight increase was seen in two categories, robbery and arson.
Crime on St. Thomas showed an increase in seven categories over the previous fiscal year. Only burglary cases showed a decrease. However, the number of arrests in that district rose over the previous fiscal year in six categories, showing a decrease only in arrests for rape and vehicle theft, Francis said.
Overall there were 46 homicides in the territory this past fiscal year, compared to 43 last year. There were 67 rapes reported.
While arresting murderers may be the most spectacular way police action saves lives, it isn't the only way. McCall trumpeted a police anti-drunk-driving initiative during a recent holiday weekend.
"We made 14 arrests over the Labor Day Weekend territory-wide," McCall said. "There was a 16-percent decrease in fatalities as compared to during the same period the year before."
More and more guns are being removed from the street as well, he said.
"To date this year we have collected more than 176 guns territory-wide," he said. "All last year the total was 124, and we still have a couple of months to go."
Of the total, 103 weapons were confiscated in the St. Thomas-St John district and 73 in the St. Croix District.
The department also recently "took a major gun dealer off the streets," McCall said, but indicated he could not give specifics just yet.
"Two thirds of firearms recovered are legally registered and were lost or stolen," he said. "If you lose or your firearm is stolen, please report it immediately."
Lookalike toy guns are a problem as well. Some robberies have been committed in the territory with highly realistic toys and starting guns, McCall said. This puts both the public and potentially children with toys at risk.
"If your kid has a toy gun that looks like a real gun, get rid of it," McCall said. During an actual confrontation "we are not going to step in and inspect to see if it's real," he said.
Benta announced several recent arrests, starting with 24-year-old David Phillip of La Grange, St. Croix for the homicide of Juan Berrios. Berrios was shot in Estate Mon Bijou June 28 and died at the Juan F. Luis Hospital July 2. Phillip was arrested Oct. 8 and charged with first-degree murder.
Also arrested for murder was Colly Cascen, 30, of Estate Mount Pleasant, Benta said. Cascen was arrested Oct. 3 for the Sept. 10 murder of 16-year-old Christian Soto III. Cascen remains in jail on a $2 million bail. Both Phillip and Cascen are "persons of interest" in other homicides, Benta said.
In the homicide case of Malik Felix, killed Sept. 11 in Estate Ginger Thomas, a 16-year-old male minor has been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, Benta said. The minor has been held at the Youth Correctional Facility since the shooting. Police do not release the names of minor suspects, he said.
Noting the high number of violent crimes by teenagers and young adults, Benta emphasized the importance of parental involvement.
"Your children are one thing at home and another when out of sight," he said. "You need to know who your children's friends are."
Preventing crimes by youths entails "adults encouraging them and teaching them how to act," Benta said. "Parents, spend some time at your child's school. Learn what is happening with them in school and every day."
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