Carmelo Rivera [in Op-Ed piece 'Public action needed to keep beaches clean'] pointed out the deplorable condition of our beaches on St. Croix and suggested that something needs to be done about the problem. Mr.Rivera is absolutely correct about both the condition of the beaches and the need for change. His observation is only one of many that I have heard concerning our island and its shortcomings. Sadly, nearly all of the complaints I have heard have been correct, and they all stem from the same root source. There seems to be little, if any, energy expended on "quality of life" issues in the territory.
The litter, the shabby roadways, the unsightly abandoned buildings, the overgrowth of weeds and bush, the obnoxious noise levels and pushy vagrants all contribute to diminish our quality of life here. Yet nothing seems to be done about them. One of the reasons for this apparent inertia is based in Virgin Islands law.
In the Virgin Islands, a person who commits a misdemeanor offense (other than domestic violence) cannot be arrested unless a police officer actually witnesses the violation. Unless the police actually see it happen, the criminal will remain untouched until the charges are filed with the Attorney General's Office and a warrant or summons is issued. That happens only when the victim is so outraged that he pursues the matter himself, obtaining copies of reports and demanding witness statements and so on, until he can carry the case to an Assistant Attorney General and ask to have it prosecuted. It then becomes the decision of the Attorney General whether or not there is sufficient grounds for a warrant and whether or not the case should be prosecuted. In most of the rest of the United States, this is not the case.
Elsewhere, a police officer who has probable cause to believe a misdemeanor has been committed can issue a summons to the offender, compelling him to appear before the Court to answer the charge against him. This means that more offenders are brought into the system and handled by the system before they begin committing felonies. It also means that the quality of life is better because people cannot litter with impunity, assault others with no fear of consequences, destroy property maliciously and a host of other violations. Where there are prompt consequences for unacceptable actions, there are fewer problems in the long run. The quality of everyone's lives is raised several notches. All it takes to implement this change is a law that establishes a misdemeanor summons and complaint, and a judge to hear the cases.
Politicians in the Virgin Islands are quick to allocate monies for themselves and for projects that will enrich a few individuals, but slow to make changes that will enrich the quality of life for all of us. In this election year, we would all do well to ask the candidates what each of them plans to do to improve our quality of life. It really doesn't matter whether you drive a shiny new Mercedes-Benz or a rusted-out Rambler when it falls into a huge pothole and destroys the tires and suspension. Whether you take lobster and champagne or hot dogs and sodas to the beach is of little concern if you are wading knee-deep in filth and sewage when you get there. And it certainly doesn't matter if whole boatloads of tourists come here if they find a shabby-looking place filled with crime and trash when they arrive.
Do we feel better because our senators look slick driving around in new TrailBlazers that cost $700 a month each to rent, or would we feel just as good if we could drive our old cars on well-maintained roads that aren't combat zones? The time has come to take a long, hard look at what really matters.
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