March 5, 2003 – Crime is the No. 1 problem that threatens the success of St. Croix businesses, according to the Christiansted Restaurant and Retail Association.
About 60 members of the organization reached unanimous agreement at a meeting last week on proposals to help overcome problems contributing to the island's economic slump.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, in a letter to CRRA's president, Julia Renfro, said he wants to meet with private sector representatives to discuss their concerns in keeping with a request by the governor that he "spearhead the economic revitalization" of the island. But before doing so, he asked to see a list of business owners' problems and suggested solutions.
Renfro responded to Richards on Feb. 27, the day after the group met. "As you can see from the solutions that we have set out," she said, "security and safety are foremost to any economic recovery. Our citizens are becoming afraid to leave their homes, and visitors are afraid to come here."
Richards told the Source on Wednesday that there have been no reported crimes against cruise ship passengers since last spring, when Carnival Cruise Lines ceased calling at St. Croix, citing repeated instances of crime against passengers and crew.
However, crimes that have been reported since then include the holdup at gunpoint of a couple visiting the island for a wedding last July and armed robberies, one involving assault, of a restaurant and a pub in January.
In the preamble to their list, association members stated that St. Croix's police force is well below its full complement of 275 officers, whereas St. Thomas has a full force with working equipment. They also noted that St. Thomas and St. John, along with St. Croix, are receiving security cameras from grant money CRRA officials have said was intended to benefit St. Croix alone. (See "Priority setup of St. Croix cameras ordered".)
"The perception exists that the government of the Virgin islands and our own Senate feel that a St. Thomian's life is worth more than a Crucian's," the statement said. "There can be no sustainable economic growth for St. Croix while the island exists in a state of emergency due to crime."
The implementation of security camera surveillance in Christiansted and Frederiksted is vital to crime reduction, the group said.
Richards had announced on Feb. 22 that installation was 95 percent complete in Christiansted and that crews were working to finish the job by Feb. 24. He told Isle 95 Radio on Wednesday that the cameras have all been installed. He later told the Source that those in Christiansted are not operational as yet. Police said testing is under way on those in Frederiksted.
Another CRRA suggestion is to bring the Christiansted bicycle patrol back up to its full complement of trained officers. CRRA paid for the bikes and equipment for the patrol, and the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development paid for the officers' specialized training. (See "Community-funded bike patrol down to 3 from 8".)
The St. foundation has an $8,000 grant ready to fund the immediate training of new officers, according to the statement.
Finding funds to hire an additional 100 police officers would help alleviate the situation. The restaurant and retailers group urged Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to sign a memorandum of understanding with the governor of Puerto Rico which would implement a crime control and prevention initiative similar to one on that island. (See "Puerto Rico plan eyed as model for St. Croix".)
"St. Croix is truly in a state of emergency because of crime," the statement said. "Our businesses and lives are in jeopardy."
Other CRRA suggestions to help improve the economic plight of St. Croix are to:
– Repair police radios and a radio tower on St. Croix that have been out of commission for more than a year.
– Improve the consistency of the 911 emergency number and the Crime Hot Line.
– Repeal the legislation making video lottery operations legal in the St. Thomas-St. John district. The law has been blamed for threatening a developer's plans to build a $500 million casino and resort complex on St. Croix.
– Improve the Water and Power Authority's ability to light streets and implement a WAPA hot line that "someone will actually monitor" so outages can be reported and crews can be dispatched immediately to make repairs.
– Repeal the 25 percent increase in landing and passenger fees instituted Feb. 1 by the Port Authority at the territory's airports. Several airlines have threatened to cancel or cut back their service to St. Croix because of the fee hikes and some reductions have already been announced.
– Establish a territorial Tourism Authority whose board will include members of the private sector from St. Croix.
The retailers' statement noted that several other community groups also have come up with suggested solutions to St. Croix's problems. "The private sector has more than stepped up to the plate with outside funding and initiatives," the letter said. "It is now time for our government of the Virgin Islands to react to protect the lives and economic well-being of the citizens and visitors of St. Croix."
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