During an episode of “Inside the Cabinet” on Wednesday, a new series released by the Government House, the V.I. Police Department Commissioner nominee Ray A. Martinez addressed questions from Virgin Islanders.
Martinez, originally from St. Croix, has served in government for 25 years as a firefighter and then for the VIPD for the past 12 years. After his introduction, Martinez went straight into providing updates and the vision of the VIPD moving forward.
One of the questions from the community was about any strategies the VIPD has regarding the shortage of VIPD officers. “It is no secret that our manpower has diminished. You will never hear me sit before you and say that we cannot police properly simply because we have less manpower,” Martinez said.
Martinez said the integration of technology is going to be a big part of how successful the VIPD will be. “We live in a technological world and, as a result, we have to continue to move towards bettering ourselves and our investigatory leads, and the use of technology is the way to go.”
Martinez said, “The VIPD must change the way we police, and the hybrid strategy is the type of strategy that is required to put the boots where they belong – where the community sees them.” With the hybrid strategy, Martinez said there are plans to install license plate readers to pick up on license plate numbers that will help with investigations. He said they will also be partnering with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles through the National Crime Information unit so that officers will be able to have at their fingertips a “RealID System.” This system will identify locals and individuals with driver licenses that are a part of the system throughout the nation.
RealID was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005. The Real ID Act sets up standards for the issuance of driver’s licenses and identification cards to safeguard against fraud and identity theft. Many states and the USVI have been granted several extensions as the program has taken longer than anticipated to implement.
“It is unfortunate, but we do have nonlocal individuals that may be participating in certain crimes,” he said. Other strategies include installing 100 closed-circuit TV cameras that they plan on quadrupling and ShotSpotter software. The system of sonic gunshot detectors that can locate the source of a weapon being fired came back online in 2020. It was first championed back in 2009 by then-Police Commissioner Novelle Francis Jr., who is now a V.I. senator.
The gunshot locators use a combination of sensors to allow the police to know where to go directly when shots are fired, eliminating the wasted effort in guessing where a shot may have come from.
The system uses listening posts and GPS to identify the exact location from where the shots were fired. This information is relayed to VIPD, and they can move without waiting for a call. It is a subscription service that the police department can use to access data from the system.
There was also a question about the status of VIPD compliance with a longstanding federal court-mandated consent decree on the use of force. Martinez said that the VIPD is close to reaching substantial compliance of over 20 portions of the decree. “The VIPD for over 10 years has been under a consent decree that mandates us to implement more constitutional policing practices. While the nation continues to battle with its own policing issues, here it is the VIPD in my opinion is ahead of the power curve, and we will continue to move towards getting ourselves out of the consent decree by obtaining substantial compliance,” said Martinez.
Martinez also addressed restoring the public’s trust and confidence in the police department so that the public begins to approach officers and provide them with the assistance they require.
“It has been a tough six months for the VIPD with the increase in violent crimes. We have 29 murders, and the department’s success is based on just that. The ability of the department not just to solve crimes, but to solve crimes through arrest and prosecution.”
Martinez said the VIPD plans to increase confidence by working harder, working smarter and utilizing the technology. “I believe the community is not going to increase the support of us until they start to see those of us in the department being more ahead of the game. Being more confident in addressing more of the crimes we want the community to speak of. By switching gears and bringing in these evidence-based practices that are how we are going to show the community that we are out there just conducting investigations.”
One of the ways that the VIPD plans on executing this task is through the selection of certain community leaders that will be at the forefront of what Martinez is calling “Group Violence Intervention.”
“This strategy works hand in hand with the police department,” Martinez said. “At the end of the day, we cannot enforce our way out of the violent crime we are having.”
These community leaders will speak and work with young adults who are involved with violent crimes, gang and illegal group activity, or individuals going down the wrong path. “A strong community figure would be a lot more successful than the enforcer, the police, the courts,” he said.
For more information on the commissioner nominee’s plans click here to read a full sit-down interview with the VI Source.