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VIHA POLICE CHIEF: ADMINISTRATION HASN'T HELPED

Dec. 3, 2002 – Housing Authority Police Chief Fitzroy Williams said Tuesday that he understands the fiscal plight that led the new executive director of the Housing Authority to eliminate his force. But he said he doesn't understand why his efforts to get help from the Turnbull administration have gone unanswered.
Williams said he sent an impact statement to Government House detailing the effect of the Housing Authority Police force over its six years in existence. The year the force began he said, there were 2,200 calls for help from public housing residents. The need for housing police intervention has dropped over the years and the number of calls stands at 1,300 going into the final month of this year, he said.
The impact statement cites the effectiveness of community-oriented police techniques employed to break down resistance and foster an atmosphere of trust and interelatedness between the Housing Authority Police and the communities they serve. All of that may go down the drain if the force is disbanded, Williams said, leaving public housing residents to deal with Police Department personnel they don't know and don't know how to trust.
In his statement addressed to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, Williams wrote: "Over the past five years, we have seen police calls for service reduced by over 30 percent. Thugs and drug dealers conducting 'business' on the corners no longer populate housing communities. Schools, housing managers, Police, Public Works, Human Services and local businesses are working together to solve problems." The housing police, he said, "have made a visible and real difference in the lives of over one-fifth of the total population of the territory."
But Williams said he has run into problems in following up on a pledge by Ray Fonseca, VIHA executive director, that efforts would be made to assimilate the terminated officers into the Police Department or other law-enforcement agencies. (See "Housing Authority police to fight dismantling".)
Williams said he tried to arrange a meeting with police officials. There were meetings scheduled and meetings canceled, he said, and he went to St. Croix to attend one, only to find out when he got there that it was already over.
A few days later, he said, he received second-hand information from the Police commissioner's office that his officers should submit application letters if they wanted to join the regular force. But he said the officers were told they would lose their seniority and their wages would drop to those of a first-year police officer. And Housing Police commanders, one captain and three sergeants, would lose their rank and seniority and be given the same deal as the housing officers.
Some Housing Authority Police officers have been with the force since it was created six years ago, according to Williams, a former career Police Department official who has headed the housing force from the start. All have peace officer status, and some have completed advanced training, he said.
At the press conference Williams called Tuesday morning to discuss the termination of his personnel, two senators with backgrounds in safety services said they have heard his cry and are doing what they can.
If the problem is money, said Sen. Carlton Dowe, a former director of the Fire Service, there's money available, already appropriated and in the hands of the Office of Management and Budget. Enough money, he said, to keep the Housing Police on the job for another four months.
"We can call the Office of Management and Budget and get them to release the $700,000 now and give them some time," Dowe said.
Sen. Celestino White, a former police chief who chairs the Senate Committee on Housing, Parks and Recreation, said he will hold a hearing on Dec. 16 to look into the state of affairs at the Housing Authority.
Also at the press conference, held at the Housing Authority Police headquarters on St. Thomas, was one of two Housing Authority investigators who are not part of the police unit but also have received notice that their jobs will be eliminated as of Dec. 31.
Williams wrote to Turnbull: "After five years of growth, the Virgin Islands Housing Authority is now mandated to spend no HUD [federal Housing and Urban Development Department] funds on police services." The effect, he said, will be "to end the visible and real improvements in the lives of our residents" that his officers have made.
At the Oswald Harris Court housing community on St. Thomas, Jean George, leader of the residents' council, recalled how the new Housing Authority Police force helped curb drug-related activity that had been taking over the area. George, a 30-year resident of the community, said: "We had a drug problem, especially on the other side, where the young men used to congregate. But we have seen a change in them. The drug problem has really gone down."
Since the housing police have been serving the community, she added, "we have felt a great change. And we would like them to stay."
George is acting on that wish. As word of the pending demise of the Housing Authority Police spread, she began a petition drive at her community and others to keep the force intact. If they go, she said, conditions around her home will get worse for her and her neighbors.

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