Aug. 1, 2003 – In a special session called by the Senate's Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee to address the recent spate of crime, the territory's top police official shed light on how he is dealing with the situation.
The committee chair, Sen. Lorraine Berry, said police officials are facing an "extreme crisis."
"There's a crime wave affecting the entire Virgin Islands," Berry said. "Too many residents are being mugged, raped and killed."
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis told Berry that while he saw the need to address the situation, he was "extremely disappointed by the manner by which the hearing was arranged with utter disregard for my schedule and previous commitments."
Lewis said he had faxed Berry a letter saying he had another commitment for Friday's date, but that she had threatened to subpoena him if he did not appear. "I simply cannot understand why my request to reschedule necessitates the threat to invoke this body's subpoena power," he said before giving his testimony.
Berry said she never received the fax.
Lewis, who been Police commissioner for a little over four months, told the senators that he and his staff "have been doing everything humanly possible to address the public safety problems that continue to plague our community." He said he believes the Police Department "should be open to scrutiny, provided that operational safety and security matters are not compromised."
Prior to the hearing, Berry had given Lewis a questionnaire that the committee wanted answered. He proceeded to reply to each question during his testimony.
One query was about the Police Department's readiness for normal activities. He replied that the department is so "lacking in many areas of preparation" that "our state of institutional readiness is, for lack of a better word, sub par, particularly in areas of operational procedures, organizational structure, vehicles, personnel, equipment, training and facilities."
The department is currently short by 62 officers of its authorized strength, Lewis said. The St. Thomas-St. John district has 236 officers but is authorized to have 258, he said. And the St. Croix district has 204 but is authorized for 244. He added that in order to operate the department more effectively, 258 more officers would be needed.
Adding to the shortage, Lewis said, 17 sworn personnel and the department's administrator of information technology have been called from the military reserves to active duty. "The loss of a single officer deals a blow to our manpower and operation," he said.
The senators also wanted to know how Lewis was dealing with internal organizational conflicts such as rivalry for top positions.
"All organizations experience conflicts," Lewis said. "Rivalry for top brass positions to which you refer is, for the most part, fueled by the rumor mill, misconceptions and misperceptions. The conflicts that have been identified are being dealt with through effective management practices, including defining a clear mission and purpose for the organization, identifying effective personnel to staff key positions, delegating authority, rewarding competence and expecting results."
Berry told Lewis there has been opposition to various deployments he has made. Lewis replied that it is his prerogative as commissioner to move individuals as he sees fit for the betterment of the department.
He said that efforts to upgrade the training, morale and readiness of police officers include:
– Extensive training in weapons of mass destruction.
– Training on Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
– Training sponsored by the Multi-Jurisdiction Counter Drug Task Force.
The department has applied for a grant to fund the training of officers in non-lethal methods of self-defense and to equip all officers with non-lethal equipment such as the asp, which is a collapsible baton, and pepper spray, he said.
Berry asked Lewis to provide a list of all police officers in civilian positions, a breakdown of overtime allocated for Fiscal Year 2003 and who has received it, a list of personnel deployment, the number of labor grievances filed since he took over, a copy of the memorandum of understanding between the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and the department's two professional contracts.
Committee members present at the hearing were Sens. Berry, Carlton Dowe, David Jones, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Shawn-Michael Malone. Sens. Emmett Hansen II and Ronald Russell were excused. Also present were Sen. Celestino White and Louis Hill, who are not members of the committee.

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