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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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VIPD Logs Onto Facebook to Fight Crime

Just days after the V.I. Police Department posted the face of St. Croix fugitive Laura Trotman on the “Most Wanted” page of its website, Trotman gave up running and turned herself in.

Likewise, earlier this month, authorities on St. Lucia were able to identify a violent V.I. “Most Wanted” fugitive Khaeil Alphonso Thompson on their island by matching the mug shot posted on the same VIPD website.

“This action sends a strong message to the criminal that you can run but you can’t hide,” Police Commissioner Novelle Francis said after Thompson’s Nov. 10 arrest and extradition.

The Internet has proven to be a powerful weapon that many wrongdoers didn’t see coming and one the VIPD is fast learning how to wield. It’s just one of many media tools the department has employed recently in the spirit of changing old attitudes and building up trust in the community, including expanding its forays into print, radio and television and tinkering with the newest online tools to get its message out.

And now the department is even on Facebook.

“In advertising, it’s a basic thing that you have to look at how to reach the people you want to reach, wherever they are,” said Melody Rames, the VIPD public affairs officer who has steered the department into the new technologies and thought of new ways to use the old.

“A lot of these people are young people who don’t read newspapers, who don’t listen to the radio, who don’t sit around for the five o’clock news,” Rames said. “They get their news from the computer.”

Since the VIPD launched its Facebook page in September it has accumulated more than 1,000 “fans” — Facebook users who have signed on to follow the VIPD page.

While the Facebook page does not announce major crimes or display the territory’s most wanted — as the force’s newly expanded website does — it profiles the people and programs that make up the force, such as cadets, training and recruitment. Rames said the best feature of the page so far has been the interaction among fans.

Conceding that the Facebook page presents a rosy pose for the police, it’s only a part of the total package, Rames said.

In just the last fiscal year, she said she has issued at least 400 individual press releases to the media and the community, ranging from alerts of murders or major crimes to announcements of arrests of major suspects. In the year before she arrived, the VIPD had only issued about 80, she said. Rames issued three on Friday alone.

Even the standard releases, mostly faxed or e-mailed to local media, carry something new: many have embedded or linked audio files of Rames or other officials reading the announcements aloud. The files can be played on radio or downloaded and played on the Internet.

“That gives us the power to put out information on our time, around our very busy days, so that we don’t always have to arrange for a press conference,” Rames explained.

In addition to the Facebook exposure and new and expanding website content, the department has created a television program highlighting different departments and added 30-second commercials for radio using high school interns who deliver chilling anti-crime messages in their own words — the lingo of the street.

Born and raised Crucian, Rames said the Virgin Islands is a “small society” whose culture sometimes presents unique challenges to her work, making it all the more important to get information out.

“People here sometimes believe that if they don’t see you, and they don’t know what you’re doing, they assume you’re doing nothing,” she said. “But people need to know that the police are out there doing a good job. If not, then the bad things are all you’ll see in the headlines.

“The bad stuff comes easy,” she said. “The other stuff you have to get out there and find it and put it out there yourself. There has to be a balance.”

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