Property crimes are down from last year, but violent crimes are up and a recent spike in murders has police and residents alike alarmed, Police Commissioner Delroy Richards told senators during budget hearings Wednesday.
Compared to last year, through April of this year, robberies are down 39 percent, burglaries down 11 percent and grand larcenies down 23 percent. But crimes against other persons are up, with rape up by 7 percent and felony assault up by 12 percent, Richards said.
Through May, the territory saw 23 homicides, with 16 on St. Thomas and seven on St. Croix. For the same period last year, there were 20 homicides, with 12 on St. Thomas, one on St. John and seven on St. Croix. St. Thomas has seen another four homicides since the end of May, increasing that total.
"The VIPD is doing everything in its power to ensure that every single homicide in this territory is investigated," Richards said. He said people he speaks to are very concerned about a perceived lack of prosecutions. More cooperation from the public and a local forensic lab would help, he said
"Witnesses are not coming forward and providing the testimony they should. … So we have to rely on forensic evidence," Richards said. But there are long delays with forensic tests. He said he was recently notified of evidence sent out for processing in a homicide case that just returned after six or seven years.
This year’s V.I. murder numbers, though horrendous and bloody, are not atypical.
Overall, in the 15 years from 1999 through 2013, the territory averaged 40 (39.6666) murders per year for a rate of 37.4 per 100,000 residents. The worst year on record was 2010, during which 59 Virgin Islanders were murdered.
The average victim is a 27-year-old male found dead in the street with multiple gunshot wounds and no apparent explanation. Retaliation, turf fights and misguided vigilantism are the most common known motivations. (See Homicide in the Virgin Islands – Young Men Dead On the Street in Related Links below)
No votes were taken during the information gathering Finance Committee hearing. Present were: Sens. Clifford Graham, Marvin Blyden, Myron Jackson, Tregenza Roach, Kurt Vialet and Sammuel Sanes. Sen. Positive Nelson was absent. Sen. Kenneth Gittens also attended the hearing.