Category: Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety

THE VIRGIN ISLANDS POLICE DEPARTMENT AND THE VIRGIN ISLANDS MANAGEMENT AGENCY SHARES AN OVERVIEW WITH SENATORS

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety chaired by Sen. Steven Payne convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on the status of the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) and the Virgin Islands Management Agency (VITEMA).

VIPD shared an update. In comparison to 2018, there is an increase in the number of homicides as of January 2019 Territory-wide. To combat crime in the community, VIPD is collaborating with federal partners to investigate crimes. Additionally, traffic and patrol initiatives are effective in seizing drugs, guns, and arresting criminals. VIPD launched ‘Operation Crack Down’ with saturated patrol officers who target illegal tint on windows, seatbelt violations, uninsured vehicles, and license plates. In 2018, VIPD recovered 54 illegal firearms on St. Croix and 48 on St. Thomas; totaling 122. Thus far, in 2019 VIPD confiscated 15 illegals guns.

Sen. Payne inquired about the steps taken to use technology to improve the service of police officers. In response, VIPD Acting Police Commissioner Jason Marsh stated that VIPD began implementing the camera project. Recent police graduates wear axon Body cameras. The goal is to furnish all patrol officers with body cams. However, additional grant funding is required. VIPD in the process of implementing the Public Safety Solution: an automation system to report incidents and manage records. Recently, VIPD has twenty-five graduated officers. Recruitment efforts continue by advertising on a variety of media outlets, events and by partnering with the U.S. Army.

Separately, VITEMA shared an overview. The 2019 Disaster Preparedness Plan of VITEMA is inclusive of storing essential commodities such as generators, tarps, meals, water, blankets, and cots in storage on both districts. On St. Thomas, there are 24,960 meals, 26 generators, 509 tarps, 61,408 water, and 702 sheets. On St. John, there are 39,000 liters of water and 26,880 meals in storage. On St. Croix there are 270,000 liters of water, 1200 blankets, 15 generators, 179,600 meals-ready-to-eat, 1,000 sheets, and 480 cots.

VITEMA Acting Director Denise Lewis stated that updating and finalizing the Territorial Comprehensive Hazard Mitigation and Resiliency Plan and the Territorial Emergency Operations Plan are some of the goals for VITEMA. Additionally, VITEMA is hiring for critical vacancies and managing projects funded by the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, there was extensive damage to the Territory’s tsunami warning system; in which most of the tsunami sirens are dysfunctional. Territory-wide, there are forty-four sirens and out of that seven are operable. For the safety of the residents, VITEMA has conducted silent testing monthly on the sirens that are functional. FEMA Public Assistance Program will fund ninety percent of the tsunami warning system to replace, restore and to strengthen the structure. The Community Block Development Grant Disaster Recovery will disseminate ten percent of the funding through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.             ###

2018 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON PREPAREDNESS UPDATE

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St. Thomas- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety, chaired by Sen. Brian Smith, held a meeting at the Capitol Building to receive testimony on preparedness for the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season from officials of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) and the Virgin Islands Port Authority.

VITEMA’s 2018 Hurricane Season preparedness initiatives include informing the public via radio talk shows on “Preparedness Tip of the Week” in collaboration with FEMA, launching an interactive website and Alert VI an emergency notification system that alerts residents with texts and email messages. Alert VI operates in conjunction with FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. VITEMA is also disseminating information via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

“Although our efforts are focused on recovery from Irma and Maria, preparedness for the 2018 Hurricane season, in accordance to the National preparedness priorities, we continue to implement and maintain preparedness initiatives such as continuing the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign,” said Mona Barnes, Director of VITEMA. “Our Tsunami’s Readiness campaign and updating our training and exercise plan to include other hazards.”

Sen. Smith inquired, “After experiencing two hurricanes in 2017, what are the lessons learned?” Barnes stated that there were gaps in communications, sheltering plans, a point of distribution operations, patient evacuations, temporary power, and emergency route clearance. “The 2018 Hurricane Season, assisted by Federal Funds provided through disaster programs activated by the Stafford Act,” added Barnes.

Regarding the emergency shelters, Sen. Novelle Francis said, “A lot of people still have blue roofs, how many shelters are available?” Barnes stated that currently there are only two equipped shelters in the wake of a storm. VITEMA has collaborated with FEMA to obtain generators for five shelters. In total there are twelve shelters, but not all are structurally sound.  FEMA’s Public Assistance and Mitigation Grant programs provide funding to restore facilities.

To date, VITEMA received $1.3 billion and is expected to acquire $1 billion more from the Public Assistance and Mitigation awards. Some of the grant monies are used to replace/repair the emergency siren system for Tsunami alerts. VITEMA has satellite phones to communicate when a natural disaster hits the Territory. Lawmakers urged VITEMA to establish contracts with the private sector such as ferry services before the storms.

Separately, the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) shared an update on security at the airports and seaports. VIPA complies with all Federal mandates.  There is adequate staffing to implement security procedures, equipment to include the server are secured. Federal Authorities such as TSA and Customs and Border Patrol assist with reinforcing rules and regulations.

PHOTOS: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/

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LAWMAKER UPDATED ON THE DEPARTMENT OF V.I. POLICE DEPARTMENT AND OTHER AGENCIES POST-HURRICANE IRMA AND HURRICANE MARIA

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St. Thomas – The Committee of Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety chaired by Sen. Brian Smith, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, to receive testimony from the V.I. Police Department and other agencies on the status post-Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

 

The post-hurricane update for the VIPD included severe damaged sustained to the infrastructure of the department. Currently, there are several inhabitable operational centers, the some of the vehicular fleet both marked and unmarked are deemed inoperable, and there are diminished resources. Restoration efforts include consolidating remaining operation centers, and policeman are working lengthy work days and despite damage sustained to the vehicles, they are still in use stated Delroy Richards, Commissioner of the VIPD.

 

“Policeman are working 12-hour days, are they being paid for overtime hours?” asked Sen. Smith. Commissioner Richards said, “Overtime should be paid based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement. My office has been working relentlessly to ensure overtime payment. In collaboration with my chief financial officer, I have certified a batch of overtime documents and personally delivered it to the Department of Finance.”

 

“Can you expound on the criminal element post-hurricane?” inquired Sen. Smith. Commissioner Richards stated that despite the state of the territory, the criminal enterprise continued. The data provided after the hurricanes indicated that there was an increase in burglaries of homes and businesses, larcenies and physical assault.

 

In a series of questions, Sen. Smith inquired about homicides in the territory and outside law enforcement personnel. Commissioner Richards stated that there were 50 homicides before the hurricanes. Since then, five more murders were committed. There are thirty-one New York State Troopers who were assigned to assist police officers on St. John.

 

Lawmakers also inquired about services to assist first-responders’ post-hurricane. “What did VIPD do to help officers after the storms,” asked Nereida Rivera O’Reilly. Commissioner Richards stated that VIPD provided catered food twice a day for officers, VIPD paid for hotel arrangements for some of them, Emergency Operation Center for disaster recovery was available, and FEMA distributed supplies to all first responders.

 

Sen. Jean Forde inquired about psychological services offered to police officers. Curtis Griffin, Assistant Police Commissioner of VIPD, stated that officers were sent to St. Croix to speak with the in-house psychologist and additional services were provided by federal agencies.

 

Separately, the Bureau of Information & Technology (BIT), V.I. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles also shared an update post-hurricane.

 

Angelo Riddick, Director/Chief Information Center of BIT stated that as a result of the damages to BIT facilities the temporary estimate to restore services is approximately $893,000. The monies will cover a digital signature application, Land Mobile Radio that allows for connectivity and continuation of operations, digital camera close circuit television, additional network system administrators, an enterprise architect and more space in the Microsoft Cloud Azure application to store data.

 

Claude Walker, Attorney General, shared the update for the Department of Justice. Post-Hurricanes, the department is investigating charitable donations to ensure the legitimacy of the donors. He also addressed the increase of the domestic violence stating that the Division of Mental Health Hotline is available to deal with psychological stress. The department continued to disburse child support checks that is deposited directly into the bank accounts of the parent.

 

Committee Members present are senators Brian Smith, Jean Forde, Novelle Francis, Dwayne DeGraff and Nereida Rivera O’Reilly.

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SENATE PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES POSTPONEMENT OF MEETINGS DUE TO IRMA

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ST. THOMAS – Senate President Myron D. Jackson announces that legislative meetings scheduled for the week of September 4 to 8 are postponed, due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma. The public will be informed of new dates. A final determination regarding the Legislative Session scheduled for September 8 will be made once the storm passes and its impacts are determined, he said.

Regarding the operations of the Legislature on all three islands, legislative employees are expected to report to work for 8 a.m. on Tuesday to secure their offices and, upon completion, will be allowed to leave at noon to continue their hurricane preparations at home. Casual wear is encouraged.

Based on reports from the National Hurricane Center and VITEMA, President Jackson said the Virgin Islands will likely be impacted by wind, rain, and ocean surge, particularly in the northern areas.

“As those reports are received I shall inform the public, all senators and our staff as to the operations of the Legislature,” he said. “All persons should therefore carefully monitor the media, including LEGIT TV – which can be accessed on Channel 5 throughout the territory, for announcements which may inform as to the operational status of the Legislature during the affected period.”

President Jackson said that the Legislature shall operate during this period only as weather conditions permit.

“Should the weather dictate the cessation of our operation for safety and health concerns, those decisions shall be made promptly and specific announcements shall be made,” he said. “I offer a prayer that all persons in the Virgin Islands, the Leeward and Windward Islands, and elsewhere be spared from Hurricane Irma. Please look to protect your families, friends, and properties be safe.”

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COMMITTEE RECEIVES TESTIMONY ON SECURITY IMPROVEMENTS AT CORRECTIONAL FACILITY AND FORENSIC LAB IN TERRITORY

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety, chaired by Sen. Brian A. Smith, met on Friday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to receive status updates and discuss challenges within the Department of Justice, Bureau of Corrections and the Virgin Islands Police Department.

Rick Mullgrav, Director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections noted the repaired gates, doors and sliders, in addition to the construction of the security check booth at the entrance of the Golden Grove facility. Renovations in the cafeteria and kitchen are currently underway and slated for completion by the end of April. Blower and exhaust fans were recently installed in the housing units to regulate the temperature in the housing units.

The husbandry program, tilapia farm, and vegetable farm programs remain active however, our other programs such as bee keeping, wood working, upholstery, and auto body repair were suspended due to the lack of funding and need of certified instructors. Funding was recently approved to install a perimeter fence, to regulate the traffic in and out of the facility and secure their livestock. Their most successful venture to date, is the video visitation feature, that allows families to communicate with their loved ones sent abroad to other correctional facilities.

This feature is available in both facilities on St. Croix and St. Thomas. “While we continue to make progress, the Bureau faces numerous challenges. As we are currently operating under two Settlement Agreements, we face the constant need to increase staffing, provide ongoing training, implement policies and procedures, and improve the Bureau’s infrastructure,” said Director Mullgrav.

Staff training on the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) policy will be completed in both districts by the end of June, while training in accordance with the mental health policies have been completed and approved. The bureau is currently working with the Department of Health to secure adequate placement for mentally ill prisoners and those deemed not guilty due to insanity.

During his testimony, Claude E. Walker, Esq., Attorney General of the Virgin Islands spoke about the Medical Examiner’s Office efforts towards establishing a new, state of the art forensic laboratory in the territory.

The lab will provide several services that are currently not available, such as DNA, drug and ballistics testing. When completed, the facility will be a significant tool in increasing the number of successful prosecutions and reducing the amount of time needed to solve crimes. The Criminal Division within the Department of Justice is in dire need of additional support staff and prosecutors to fulfill its responsibilities. This current fiscal year has a total of 285 new cases opened, with 79 felony cases and 53 misdemeanor cases on St. Croix.

There are currently 80 felony cases and 53 misdemeanor cases on St. Thomas. Attorney General Walker also noted the challenges within the Bureau of Investigation Division. This unit is responsible for all civil and criminal investigations. The staff within this division assist by conducting background investigations, serving subpoenas and discoveries, in addition to locating and transporting victims and witnesses to and from court.

“The most immediate needs for the Bureau include one additional agent for St. Croix; new and badly-needed equipment such as ammunition, bullet proof vests, radios, retractable batons, and surveillance equipment; as well as funds for training in the areas of interrogation, surveillance, investigations, and report writing,” concluded Attorney General Walker.

Delroy Richards Sr., Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department emphasized the department’s desire to maintain and increase police control, rapid response to incidents, calls for service, effective investigation and solution of criminal acts, and timely apprehension of criminal perpetrators. Two major goals of the VIPD is Crime Prevention, to become fully self-sufficient by having all the necessary resources within the Virgin Islands; to include well trained and equipped personnel. The remaining testimony was given by Dennis Howell, Chairman of the Virgin Islands Parole Board.

The Virgin Islands Parole Board plans to improve their operations by: conducting on site parole board hearings, establish a parole board authority with proper staffing, educating the BOC staff on parole procedures and continue public education through town hall meetings. Chairman Howell briefly mentioned the implementation of program in which parolees pay an unspecified amount upon their release. “If you’re out on parole, you will pay to be out on the outside,” concluded Chairman Howell.

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