May 24, 2002 – Police have begun setting up vehicle checkpoints along roads in the Virgin Islands to search cars at will for illegal guns in response to the outbreak of violence that, among other things, left three people dead in separate shootings on Mother's Day.
On St. Thomas, the first checkpoint was set up for several hours Wednesday night at Mandela Circle. Another was in effect Thursday afternoon in the Tutu area. The vehicle stops are in response to gang-related violence, police spokeswoman Sgt. Annette Raimer said Thursday.
"These checkpoints could show up anywhere and at any time. We're trying to net as many illegal guns as we can," Raimer said. "This has been sanctioned by the Department of Justice and the governor. Everyone knows the situation with all these illegal guns."
Police have set up vehicle checkpoints in the past, but they have not been used often in recent years, she said. The Justice Department has told police they can search cars at random without running into civil rights violations, she said.
Police also are now enforcing more vigorously the 10 p.m. curfew for children under 17 years of age, Police Commissioner Franz Christian said in a press release Thursday. Police said several of the recent killings on St. Thomas have been linked to juveniles involved in battles among gangs in different neighborhoods on the island. Christian urged parents of children to be aware of where their children are so they don't get picked up on curfew violations.
He also asked businesses and the organizers of youth activities to schedule their events so young people can be off the streets by 10 p.m.
On Thursday night, police detained three minors in violation of the curfew; all were later released into the custody of their parents "with written notification of pending arrest should there be a second offense," a Friday release stated.
Christian's release also said a task force made up of police and inspectors from the Departments of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Public Works and Health plus the Fire Service will be reactivated to make sure businesses are complying with all laws.
The task force in the past has worked to identify unsanitary or abandoned buildings and to enforce other violations, but it has not been active recently, Raimer said.
The police initiatives come within days of Gov. Charles Turnbull's request to the Senate to increase police funding by about $2.5 million and to lower the age from 14 to 13 at which a juvenile can be tried as an adult for serious felonies such as murder and rape. "These initiatives are expected to work well with the cooperation and support of the entire community," Christian said.
There have been 18 homicides in the Virgin Islands this year, 13 occurring on St. Thomas. At this time last year the figures stood at 11 for the territory and 7 for St. Thomas. The territory's murder rate is more than five times the national average. Carnival Cruise Lines cited high crime as a major reason for ending its ships' visits to St. Croix last month.
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