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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, December 2, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesViolent Crime Down 17 Percent But Still High, White Tells Senators

Violent Crime Down 17 Percent But Still High, White Tells Senators

Violent crime dropped 17 percent in the U.S. Virgin Islands between fiscal year 2011 and the nearly completed fiscal year 2012, despite V.I. Police Department budget cuts over the same period, Police Commissioner Henry White testified to the Senate Finance Committee during budget hearings Friday. The territory also saw a four-percent reduction in property crimes and confiscated 116 firearms across the territory, he said.

But violent crime, gangs, drugs and guns continue to be severe problems in the region, and the federal government could give more help, he said.

"There is irrefutable evidence that the U.S. Virgin Islands are being fully utilized as major drug shipment route between South America and the U.S. mainland. As an example, in early June I was advised of an $8 million cocaine shipment seized 50 miles off the coast of St. Croix. Also in June 45 people – part of an "airport smuggling ring" were indicted for moving more than 61,000 pounds of cocaine in Puerto Rico since 1999."

Ironically, the federal government is giving Caribbean nations millions in funding to combat guns, drugs and gang violence in the region, but not not the U.S. Virgin Islands, which as a U.S. possession, "is exempt from receiving these State Department funds," White said.

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"While the rest of the Caribbean is fortifying their shores against the onslaught of drugs, guns and gangs with American money, the U.S. Virgin Islands, with more than 1,000 miles of porous borders, must make do with the resources we have on hand," White said.

In the upcoming year, White plans to install a liaison with the territory’s public housing communities, to help increase security and crime prevention within the communities, he said.

The department is also reviewing a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco And Firearms to establish a Firearms Investigation Team to "trace every firearm we confiscate back to its source," he said. Once V.I. officers are vetted as FIT task force officers, their overtime will be paid through federal funds distributed through the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, White said.

With ever tightening budget constraints, reducing overtime costs is a high priority, but with limited manpower it cannot completely be eliminated, White said. As of the first nine months of fiscal 2012, the police department incurred $6.1 million in overtime costs, according to White’s budget presentation. In 2011, the department spent $10.9 million on overtime for the entire year.

Overtime costs are being strictly monitored and a new scheduling system has been put in place to minimize overtime. Meanwhile, White said, "One thing that creates the need for police overtime is the frequency of large private events," such as concerts and parties. Henceforth, "private events promoters will be required to provide security for that event at their expense, thereby reducing VIPD overtime to the absolute minimum," he said.

"Would more personnel help overtime?" asked Sen. Ronald Russell.

"It would help, but is not the answer," White responded.

When officers make arrests late at night, they have to appear early the next day in court for advice of rights hearings, and so will inevitably accrue overtime, he said. Events that occur late at night and require extra security also force police to work overtime, he said.

Asked for ways the department could reduce overtime, White said "cutting back on security for festival events would reduce overtime."

White presented the Police Department General Fund budget request of $51.2 million; a 3.9-percent decrease from the fiscal 2012 appropriation. Personnel costs are $43.6 million. Of the remainder, $5.4 million covers fixed costs, including utilities, telephone, office rentals, gasoline and professional contracts. The remaining $2.2 million is distributed between training, car repairs, supplies and other operating costs.

No votes were taken at the information-gathering hearing.

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