Aug. 5. 2006–Developing a comprehensive database will help the territory bring in more federal grant money, according to Meredith Nielsen, director of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission.
During the second round of budget hearings Friday, Nielsen said that the federal grants awarded to the territory are currently based on population. He explained that by developing a database, which links to the local Police and Justice departments and provides the federal government with various crime statistics, the Virgin Islands could be eligible for more funds. "This year, we were able to bring in about $8 million worth of federal funds," Nielsen said. "This will increase once we give the federal government more data about our crime levels."
He said the system should be up and running within two or three months, once LEPC has direct connectivity with the other government departments and agencies. The database would allow the federal government, through the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program, to access a breakdown of the number of crimes occurring within the territory, along with areas of high criminal activity, and exactly what crimes are being committed within each district.
Federal grants awarded to LEPC are passed on to a number of local organizations, including juvenile justice and domestic abuse programs, among other things.
During the meeting, Nielsen also discussed various initiatives ongoing within the Drug Enforcement Bureau (formerly the Narcotics Strike Force), also located under LEPC.
In response to questions from senators about the questionable history of the Strike Force, Nielsen said he is in the process of hiring new, qualified agents to help regulate drug-related activities throughout the territory. "There were a lot of bad mistakes made in the past," he said. "It was scandalous, and I don't want to repeat that process. Now, when I'm looking for police officers, I tell them straightaway that I'm going to need to look at their records, and ask them why they want to join the agency."
He added that individuals wishing to join the organization have to have a "flawless record," with a minimum of four years investigative experience.
Nielsen also told senators that the bureau should not be located under LEPC, which he said is responsible for channeling federal funds to organizations and programs and collecting criminal statistics.
While Nielsen also defended a $624,157 budget recommendation made by the executive branch for fiscal year 2007, he asked senators for additional money to hire new agents for the Drug Enforcement Bureau. "We would like to have six agents in each district," he said. "Additionally, we need to make the salaries more attractive. We have agents who have been working for like 10 years who are only making something like $33,000. That is unfair, and it can also be dangerous."
Present during Friday's meeting were Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste and Usie R. Richards.
Sen. Neville James was absent.
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