I attended the forum on "Criminal Justice in the 21st Century" with the motto "To protect and to serve;" held in the Capitol Building of the Legislature on February 3, 2006. I participated not necessarily as a testifier but as a concern citizen seeking answers to relevant questions. I am presenting those questions here, which were not all asked nor answered. There was not much time left for citizen's participation after the panel presentation and questions from the few senators present.
My first question was: Where does delinquency begins, with the adults or with the juveniles? The question is asked because as I have listen to the discussions on the subject of delinquency, particularly juvenile delinquency it appears as if we loose sight of the origins of delinquency. Our youth are influenced by the adults for good or evil. The children are brought into this world normally by adult parents with a culturally and morally blank page of their life. What goes on the blank page is what they observe and absorb as they develop. The environment is a determining factor in the character and behavior of the child, of the juvenile. Therefore, it stands to reason if we are honestly interested in addressing juvenile delinquency that we start at the source of the delinquency, the adult delinquents.
My second question was: Is the number of police officers or law enforcement agents more critical in combating crime than the quality of the personnel and equipment used by the police agencies? We hear the politicians and public administrators, including the Police Commissioner promote the theory that by increasing the number of officers the incidence of criminal activities will be reduce and there would be more resolution of criminal cases. I differ with that theory, the number of officers is important, but more important is the quality of personnel, their training and their equipment. Improper deployment of available manpower and resources is the principal deficiency of our police organization. With proper leadership, the morale would improve and the productivity of the police would increase threefold.
My following question addresses the courts: How supportive is the courts to the law enforcement efforts? From the reports I have received from police officers, some judges act as demigods in the court to the detriment of justice. Some judges let the guilty go because of minor procedural errors or sloppiness by the prosecutor and/or the police. I would think the judge should be more concern with administering justice and protecting the community from the criminal elements than dismissing cases because someone was late or fail to dot an "i" or cross a "t".
This question has to do with the organizational structure of our government. At what level in a department or agency should we allow political appointment and related to that, up to what level should the career or professional civil servant be establish. We all have observed that because of cronyism many department fail to operate efficiently. That is the consequence when we allow too many political appointees to obstruct or stymie the smooth operations of a department or agency. We need career administrators, who are qualified by training and experience to administer the departments or agencies. The departments and agencies need consistency in operation not unwarranted changes every four or eight years by some political cronies.
Since Commissioner Elton Lewis had invited heads of police agencies from some other Caribbean jurisdiction this question was intended for them but was never raised. Would it be advantageous to solidify the cooperation between the different jurisdictions in the Caribbean and the US Virgin Islands by establishing a clearing center to process information, intelligence? Would a joint regional forensic center, using the latest technology be acceptable by those present? Since crime fighting is an expensive function by pooling resources more can be accomplished that would benefit all subscribers.
This question addresses the problem of juveniles who are at risk, to become delinquents and those who have become clients of the juvenile justice system. I wanted to know if the panel and the legislators present would have endorsed a program to rescue at risk juveniles before they actually became involve with the criminal justice system. We all acknowledge that there are juveniles who lack proper adult supervision and are prone to drop out of school. We need to have a program that addresses the need of those juveniles, where they receive the moral and spiritual support they need to become law abiding productive citizens. Homes for displaced and trouble youth could be run by religious based organizations or non-profit civilian organizations. For those juveniles who have been sentenced to incarceration they should have a support system to provide them the necessary assistance to correct their behavior and adopt socially accepted behavior and to learn skills to make them productive law abiding citizens.
My last question is: What can be done to overcome the public distrust or suspicion of the police? As we know, from personal experience or that of someone we know, where the police behavior left much to desired as far as professionalism and confidentiality. I believe with proper training and monitoring much can be achieved. With proper leadership, where supervisors lead by example and mutual respect, much can be achieved in improving both the image of the police and for the police to gain the respect and confidence of the residents.
The forum was an initiative of Police Commissioner E. Lewis who received the support and cooperation of Senate President Lorraine Berry. I would say it was a good exercise. I would refrain from saying it was an exercise in futility, in spite of the poor attendance by the Senators. We have to wait and see if there will be any implementation of any or some of the recommendations made. I am waiting to see what fruits are borne from the exercise.
St. Thomas, V.I.
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