Cruz Bay residents at a town hall meeting Wednesday urged Police Commissioner Delroy Richards to redouble efforts to address nightly drug deals occurring on one of the town’s busiest streets.
St. John Administrator Camille Paris, Jr. hosted Wednesday’s town hall meeting in the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room at St. John’s legislature annex.
Cruz Bay resident Theodora Moorehead, who has been vocal about the same issue in the past, expressed exasperation that drug deals done in plain sight seem to be a perennial problem in downtown Cruz Bay.
“I don’t even know where to begin because every time we have a meeting with the police department things may change for a few days, and then it reverts back to the same situation. I call it the drug strip,” Moorehead said.
Vestergade, the street which runs between Connections and the Cruz Bay Post Office, is the “drug strip” Moorehead referred to. Despite being brightly lit and home to multiple popular Cruz Bay restaurants, Vestergade’s drug problem has been “going on for years,” according to Moorehead.
“Everybody knows who the drug dealers are. You can put up bright lights on the buildings, you can put up no trespassing sign and it seems to attract them even more,” she said.
Moorehead, who lives nearby, said she is also concerned with general loitering and loud music in the area late at night that “makes her windows and doors vibrate.” She said she has made several noise complaints, but has never seen an officer ask anyone to turn their music down.
Richards pledged to focus more VIPD resources on the area, but said that police have been having trouble in recent years addressing loitering, noise disturbances and the sale of marijuana.
In the case of loitering and noise disturbances, Richards said current laws in the Virgin Islands are nearly unenforceable, leaving police with little option but to issue warnings with no teeth to them. The amount of evidence needed to prove these offenses makes it very difficult to convict anyone for them, he explained.
“All of this requires legislation, because the legislation that’s in place has been tested in court and we lost,” he said.
The recent decriminalization of marijuana in the territory has also set the probable cause needed for arrest in cases of the substance’s sale at a high level, Richards said. And although there are functional police surveillance cameras in place in Cruz Bay, dealers have learned to make transactions without making direct, visible exchanges.
Richards said the solution to the problem in his view would be technological updates to surveillance, though Moorehead challenged that the transactions were subtle, saying she could see them from her window.
“All the cameras are going to change,” Richards said.
New surveillance cameras that will be tested on St. Croix in the coming months involve higher definition imagery and four different lenses pointed in different directions. After being rolled out on St. Croix the VIPD plans to install them in “hot spots” around St. Thomas and St. John as well.
Richards said a private donor for the St. Croix system has freed up an extra $500,000 from that district to be transferred to surveillance updates to the St. Thomas-St. John district, which also has an additional matching $500,000.
Richards said another idea to combat Cruz Bay’s drug problem occurred to him, but that he could not yet announce it publicly.
“I’m listening to you and something is going through the back of my head, and what’s going through the back of my head I obviously can’t say. But it can be addressed,” he said vaguely.
Richards also announced at the town hall meeting that the VIPD is planning to greatly increase recruiting efforts for officers from St. John. Those efforts include building an academy annex or training facility where cadets who live on St. John can conduct their training and teleconference in to classes, rather than commuting to St. Thomas for instruction.
Richards said he felt the commute for police training was one of the issues stopping more St. John residents from pursuing careers with the VIPD.
The training facility, Richards said, would be made possible by a partnership with the V.I. Department of Education that is already in place. He said the two departments were in the process of finding the funding for the plan.
Richards said he recognized the need for more officers based on St. John who actually live on St. John, know the island, and want to work there. When he joined the force in 1968, he said, St. John was a place where officers were often sent if they were being disciplined.
“We used to call it Little Siberia, because you exile them to St. John. But this is not Siberia,” Richards said.
The VIPD is also reportedly in the process of procuring a boat for high-speed transport of officers between St. Thomas and St. John in the event that police backup is needed. The vessel’s other purpose is to patrol the waters around St. John for the trafficking of drugs and people.