Few Residents Turn Out for Town Meeting, but Significant Q & A Took Place Anyway

June 12, 2007 — The audience was little bigger than the panel of government officials at a town meeting with Police at St. Croix Educational Complex Monday, and half were candidates for the constitutional convention.
All the big guns were there to answer questions from the public. Police Commissioner James McCall, Assistant Commissioner Novelle Francis, Attorney General Vincent Frazier, Denise Lewis, director of the police-sponsored Weed and Seed youth program and Police legal counsel Fred Handleman were joined by newly appointed Police Recruiter Emmett Hansen and Director of Training C. Douglas Jones, to form a panel of high officials covering every aspect of law enforcement. A little way into the program, Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis joined the group as well.
“I am disappointed at the turnout,” Hansen said. “We have the attorney general and all the top police officials here. But the only ones here are the ones who always come out.”
Though the questioners were few in number, the questions were no less sharp.
“I called the police because of an incident not long ago and no one came,” Sherry Ann Wiltshire said. “I called the next day and the excuse they gave was there was a change of shift.”
“I’ve heard of that happening in the past and I hope this wasn’t recent,” McCall said. “We are not accepting the change-of-shift excuse. Call me or Novelle Francis and let us know if that ever happens again.” McCall’s number is 712-6000. Novelle Francis’ is 712-6001.
McCall responded to criticism and complaints in a like manner several times, acknowledging problems, pledging to improve and asking for feedback to help them improve.
“I won’t make any excuses,” McCall said. “Just do a better job going forward.”
Al Franklin of Frederiksted asked what the police could do about loud music late at night. Francis said the law allows music in nightclubs until 4 a.m. and in bars until 2 a.m. But many places that act as nightclubs are not licensed as such, so he urged residents to call the Police as well as Licensing and Consumer Affairs and make a report on businesses that are too loud at night. The assistant commissioner also said a pending change in the law might help police respond to noise complaints.
“The noise law Sen. Liston Davis has proposed would give us the power to address excessive noise from clubs and other places,” Francis said. “It’s a good law.”
Mary L. Moorhead asked about increased curfew enforcement as a way to reduce street crime.
“The law is somewhat toothless here,” Francis said. “As long as one of them is 18, they can say they are with that adult. Also we end up babysitting them, waiting for their parents to come.”
“We need to educate the kids and parents regarding curfew and provide other means to occupy their time,” said Weed and Seed Director Denise Lewis.
Paul Chakroff, executive director of the St. Croix Landmark Society, brought up the issue of silence by intimidation.
"We’ve had several break-ins at Whim Plantation recently,” Chakroff said. “And some senior citizens in Whim Gardens have been victims of home invasions. There are folks who know who is doing it but no one individual, myself included, wants to stand up because no one wants to deal with retribution. It has to be collective action.”
“The code of silence has to stop,” Hansen said.
“I have seen the community begin to come around the last few years,” Francis added. “More people are calling us and coming forward with information.”
McCall addressed the need to recruit more officers.
“As you know, we are short 250 to 300 officers in the territory,” McCall said. “But it is not a problem unique to the Virgin Islands. Houston, Texas, is short 1,000 officers and Atlanta, Ga., is short 350.”
Former Sen. Emmett Hansen, the new police recruiter, said lower-than-average starting pay makes it difficult to attract and keep new officers. McCall partly disagreed, saying more money would be helpful, but that good officers do not join the force for the money. Hansen pointed to other factors that slow recruiting.
“It is a slow process,” Hansen said. “Everybody has to be vetted, me included," Hansen said. "So when someone tells me, 'I know this guy who has a badge from somewhere else, go pick him up to be an officer,' it is not so simple. We have to check. If we hired someone and they turned out to have a record somewhere as a molester or rapist, imagine the public reaction. Also, union contracts cannot be abrogated just because we need more officers.”
Jones, the new police training director, said he hoped to one day have a state-of-the-art training facility, with a gym, a track, dormitories and a firing range. Meanwhile, he said, they just began training for a new batch of recruits. Illustrating the rigors of the vetting process, Jones said more than 200 individuals applied to the police training academy, but after the initial background check and entrance exam, there were only 85. After further vetting and psychological testing, 18 individuals remained, 14 of whom are aiming to join the force. The other four are going into other enforcement positions.
As the town meeting wound up, Francis said that police plan to have similar meetings on a regular basis.

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