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Police Kick Off New Housing Community Initiative

Taking stock of everything from abandoned vehicles to illegal chicken coops, local officers made their first assessments Wednesday on the state of V.I. housing communities as part of a territory-wide cleanup effort organized in conjunction with the V.I. Housing Authority.
A memorandum of understanding between Police and the Housing Authority was signed early last month, and Wednesday’s walk-throughs were meant to get the officers familiar with the communities they would be in charge of patrolling.
"We really want to identify our main areas of concern and direct the officers to follow up on whatever problems they can," Deputy Police Chief Dwayne DeGraff explained at an afternoon press briefing held at the Oswald Harris Court community on St. Thomas. "Then, three months from now, we’ll measure the progress."
Zone commander Lt. Sylvia Felix-Penn said officers didn’t spot a lot of problems right off the bat and were "impressed" that residents had already begun doing much of the work themselves by keeping the streets and buildings clean. The biggest problem seemed to be the large number of abandoned vehicles within the neighborhoods, which officers explained Wednesday are not only "eyesores" but can be used as tools for criminal activity.
Officers have long said weapons and drugs have been found in abandoned vehicles but explained Wednesday that they have also seen cases where people simply switch license plates on the cars that are still working, take them out and commit a crime, then return them and put the original plates back on. That’s why police have been urging residents to make sure to take their plates when selling or transferring ownership of their vehicles, DeGraff said.
Another major problem for officers has been complaints of shots being fired in the neighborhoods, which officials hope to cut down on by interacting with and getting to know the residents.
"We aren’t seeing a lot of groups loitering on the street corners or around the buildings anymore," Felix-Penn said. "So I think they’re finding more productive things to do."
Of course, cutting back on gang activity goes hand in hand with the new policing initiative. Increasing their street presence gives the officers more time around areas that have been identified as hot spots and gives them more time to spend with individuals who might be swayed away from the "gang lifestyle," according to DeGraff.
"We might be able to offer them alternatives — maybe get them to become part of the police gang," he said. "It’s about helping these individuals and getting things up to the standards they’re supposed to be."
Under the MOU, officers will also work to encourage residents to get involved in keeping their neighborhoods safe by training in neighborhood watch, community crime prevention and reporting domestic violence.

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