Jan. 13, 2006 – Local officials, including Police Commissioner Elton Lewis, have been pushing a concept of community policing for more than a year.
Their efforts are receiving a federal boost as COPS funds have recently been awarded the Virgin Islands to administer a Community Policing Initiative.
Coordinating the Initiative will be the Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning (CELL) Center at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Ilene Garner, director of CELL, said Friday the initial funds for the program were less than $20,000, but if the Virgin Islands can show success with the program more funds will be forthcoming from the federal Department of Justice. She said the first step will be a public relations campaign letting community residents and leaders know exactly what the Initiative is about. She expects to hold town-meeting type seminars during the last week of February or the beginning of March.
This week she had Ernesto Fernandez on St. Thomas and St. Croix talking to interested residents about how the Initiative is working on Puerto Rico. Garner said she invited Fernandez because the Puerto Rico program, which is in its third year, has been successful.
Fernandez described the Puerto Rico Training Initiative, under the umbrella of the Florida Regional Community Policing Institute at St. Petersburg College, to a small group at Sand Castles on the Beach in Frederiksted on Thursday.
He said the program's mission is "to provide quality community policing and ethics and integrity training and technical assistance for law enforcement, community members, municipalities and local government."
To that end, 253 people have been trained since the first course was held in June 2004 in Florida. The training is free and includes such subjects as Introduction to Community Policing, Ethical Issues and Decisions in Law Enforcement, Conflict Resolution/Problem Solving and the Dynamics of Domestic Violence.
Fernandez said it would be up to the people of the Virgin Islands to decide which direction the V.I. program takes.
"You are the ones who know your issues," he said.
Robert Merwin, of Our Town Frederiksted, attended the meeting. He said that it was his experience working with groups such as Team St. Croix and addressing crime on the island that, "It is hard coming up with a consensus and to set priorities."
Michael Thurland, who attended the meeting as a representative for Delegate Donna Christensen, said he welcomed the program. He said Christensen was advocating programs of crime prevention especially those focused on young, black males.
Fernandez said that everyone he had talked to on the island was supportive of the program's goal.
"We need help," Merwin said.
He said the problems of crime trickle down from the very highest levels of government where bribery was common.
Garner is scheduled to come to St. Croix next week to talk to community members about the initiative.
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