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Police Plan Crackdown on Juvenile Crime

Feb. 5, 2009 – Top brass of the V.I. Police Department said Thursday the department will step up its crime-fighting initiatives in the months ahead, including cracking down on youth violence.
Thursday's press conference on St. Thomas began with the announcement that Oakland Benta has been named St. Croix's police chief after six months of being acting police chief.
Former Police Chief Thomas Hannah has been tapped as the department's liaison to the newly formed Crime Stoppers USVI program, responsible for following up on all tips that come in to the organization, according to officials.
Benta said the increase in youth violence throughout the territory has forced the department to become more involved in local schools, strictly enforcing the 10 p.m. curfew for people younger than 17, and partnering with government agencies such as Human Services to make sure juvenile offenders are getting proper attention.
A January shooting at the Lorraine Village Homes community on St. Croix recently left one man dead and put five others – including a child – in the hospital with various non-life-threatening injuries, Benta said, adding that many of the shots were fired randomly. From now on police are going to pile on multiple counts of reckless endangerment for suspects arrested in similar shooting cases, with each count carrying a maximum five-year sentence, he said.
"A bullet has no eyes," Benta said. "If someone comes into a housing community and starts firing shots, there could be 400 people living in there that the bullet could hit. So that person could be facing 400 separate counts of reckless endangerment – an individual charge would apply for every resident in every home."
A police officer on each island will be appointed to work with local schools administrators to monitor "problem" students and keep tabs on their progress throughout the year, Benta said. Students who leave schools without a documented excuse will be picked up and their parents could be charged with neglect if a student's absence is not reported.
If a student is picked up by Human Services, VIPD will meet with the parents and conduct physical inspections of the home. Often, when juveniles are remanded to the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix, their parents trade time they could be visiting their children for hours in the casino or bar, Benta said. VIPD will make sure whatever government assistance the parents might receive will be forwarded to the YRC, he added.
While continuing to reach out to the local community for information – in 2008 VIPD paid $40,000 for rewards and witness protection – officials said more traffic stops, drug busts and community patrolling can be expected for 2009. Community meetings will be ongoing throughout the territory.
Guns picked up on St. Thomas over the past months were on display Thursday during the press conference – an array of pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns – and according to police spokesman Melody Rames, five more have been confiscated on St. Croix along with multiple rounds and cases of ammunition. While no guns have been found on St. John so far this year, police are putting more aggressive patrols around Cruz Bay and Coral Bay.
The early January slaying of St. John businessman Juan Ayala is still being investigated, with police "actively pursuing all leads," Foy said. Meanwhile, residents with any information on the homicide can call the department or Crime Stoppers USVI at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Residents calling in with information, a complaint or a request for assistance also can call 911 and talk to the dispatcher, who will relay the information to officers on the island, Foy said.
The recent arrival of a new fleet of police cars to the territory has also heralded a new age of efficiency within the department, officers said. During a demonstration held after the Thursday news conference, traffic commander Sgt. Rosalyn Jarvis and Officer Luwanda Chandler showed off their new ride and discussed the advantage of working in a vehicle equipped with, among other things, a Panasonic Toughbook. The fortified laptop computers – which Jarvis said will still work after being dropped from a five-story building – can cut down the officers' reporting time from five to two days, she said. While on the scene an officer can run a person's driver's license and registration, write up a crash report and send it electronically to a supervisor. The expedited process will cut down on the waiting time for residents trying to access a traffic report, she said.
"These machines are specifically made for us to work out in the field, Jarvis said. "It's definitely going to make things much easier."

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