July 25, 2004 St. Croix may be getting as many as 20 new police officers soon and St. Thomas an additional 10 next year.
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis told the Source Sunday that the first thing he would do Monday was to go through the pool of applicants the department has and see if the hirings could be made from that pool. He was not sure whether the department would have to advertise for more applicants.
According to a release, Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been able to identify funds from a prior authorization to "facilitate the screening and training of 20 additional police officers for St. Croix."
The release, which came from the office of Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, further stated, "Funds for 10 more officers would be forthcoming in the beginning of the fiscal year in October 2005 to supplement the police force on St. Thomas."
Richard had asked Mills to find the funds after a meeting attended by Lewis; Police Chief Novelle Francis; Julia Renfro, president of the Christiansted Restaurant and Retail Association; Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards; Anna Heyliger-Hector, president, and Ed Buckley, vice president, of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce; Debi Forbes, general manager of Chenay Bay; and Beverly Nicholson, president of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association.
This meeting, according to published reports, came about as the result of recent crimes on St. Croix.
Lewis said that recent crime might have been a catalyst for the action, but he added that many meetings he held with community members and government officials over a period of time set the stage.
Lewis said the territory has lost a great number of officers in recent years due to attrition, but he was at home and did not have access to the exact figures. One published report said that the territory was down 100 officers from 15 years ago.
Lewis is scheduled to present his budget request for the upcoming year to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. He said Sunday that he wants to phase in the hiring of 200 new officers over a period of time.
Lewis said statistics don't show that crime is on the rise in the territory but added that his officers do face a challenge. "There is a small segment of the population raising havoc," he said.
He said he recognized the financial constraints of the government. He added that he was committed to maximizing resources to make the community a safer place.
The release from the lieutenant governor stated: "Acting Gov. Richards is pleased that the budget director was able to identify funds from a prior authorization which will be used to supplement the woefully understaffed police force."
Richards is quoted as saying that economic development efforts on St. Croix will move forward only "if the investment community and visitors are assured that public safety is a priority for the territory."
Both Richards and Lewis asked residents to be as engaged as possible in helping police identify and apprehend suspected criminals.
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