Aug. 28, 2002 – The Police Department has hired a local advertising and public relations agency to help improve the image of the force in the community, Police Chief Novelle Francis told a gathering of Rotarians on Wednesday.
Part of people's hesitation in reporting crime, Francis said, comes from the negative image they have of the police. "Improving our image is our biggest challenge," he said, adding that a thorough housecleaning is needed, along with a change in the attitudes of some officers and others within the department.
Meantime, Francis said, he has hired Austin Advertising on St. Thomas to produce public relations commercials and public service announcements designed to help improve the department's image.
In his address at a luncheon gathering of St. Thomas Rotary II at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, Francis also asked for help from the community in battling crime. Citing a host of crime-fighting initiatives, he said greater community involvement would go a long way toward combatting crime in the Virgin Islands.
"Be our eyes and ears," Francis said, calling on his listeners to put themselves in victims' places and imagine how they would feel if no one came to help them, or if no one sought out police assistance. "We desperately need your help," he said.
He said members of the community need to report crime in order to aid police in combatting what he termed "street justice" taking place throughout the territory. But he also acknowledged that reporting crime can be a "Catch-22" situation for residents with justifiable fears about reprisals from the criminal element operating within their own neighborhoods.
Still, he said, crime must be treated as a societal problem, and individuals must do their part to help police. "Crime goes full circle," he said. "If you see a crime and it goes unreported, one day that same crime could happen to you."
Another image problem that needs addressing, he said, is the perception that the Virgin Islands is a crime ridden and dangerous place. "The negative perception that crime is rampant and out of control in these Virgin Islands must be corrected," he said.
While he does not consider crime rampant in the territory, the police chief said, violence is a problem. He said the Police Department is undertaking several initiatives to combat crime and violence, including the Weed and Seed program for youngsters, Project Safe Neighborhood, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, and the use of law-enforcement officers from other V.I. government agencies.
These initiatives have been "very successful," Francis said, but police work remains challenging. Prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the mainland last year, he said, the FBI had been working closely with local police to combat crime. While there is still a working relationship, he said, the federal focus is now on terrorism, and this has left the Police Department without much-needed outside aid.
Francis said he recently met with FBI Director Robert Mueller in Puerto Rico and outlined many of the problems faced by local police. "We have made our case and given them a sense of our importance in the grand scheme of things," he said.
He also told the Rotarians that he will use all available resources to combat the rising incidence of child molestation, rape and abuse in the territory. Saying he is "outraged" by the reports of sexual assault involving minors, he pledged to do everything within his power to protect children from predators.
And he called upon the Rotarians to use their influence in helping to see that the Police Department has the needed "tools, equipment and resources to make you feel safe."
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