ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety chaired by Senator Steven D. Payne, Sr., convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received testimony on Bill No. 34-0142- An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code Title 20, chapter 45 by adding subchapter II to provide for an Automatic License Plate Reader System (ALPR) as a crime-fighter tool throughout the Virgin Islands; amending Title 3, chapter 33 section 991(g) relating to public records to exclude captured plate data from automatic license plate readers systems; and providing for other purposes. Separately, the Virgin Islands Fire Department (VIFS) and the Juvenile System presented updates on their operations.
Senator Payne stated that this is a new day in crime-fighting in the Virgin Islands. The Territory will be on-to-par with other jurisdictions. “New York City has more than 60,000 cameras throughout all the boroughs. Some of the cameras are located by education institutions and in business communities. Police officers can solve crimes using visible real-time video.”
Lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0142. The measure seeks to permit the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) in collaboration with the Virgin Islands Bureau of Information Technology to develop and maintain an automatic license plate reader system database. The information captured may be used for legitimate law enforcement purposes by law enforcement agencies and regulatory and administrative purposes by other governmental entities. The bill is sponsored by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr., and Franklin D. Johnson. VIPD Police Commissioner Ray Martinez mentioned that ALPR, a high-speed, computer-controlled system is slated to be mounted on streetlights, overpasses, highways, street poles, mobile camera trailers, and police squad cars. Moreover, Senator Francis indicated that ALPR has significant benefits specific to tracking and locating vehicles associated with crime and traffic violations. Although in support of the bill, Attorney General Deputy Eric Chancellor cautioned that some of the major challenges are the potential civil rights violation, the retention of license plate data, and the sufficiency of the evidence.
Separately, the Virgin Islands Fire Department Daryl George shared an update on safety protocols, training, and certification. Regarding staffing, a total of 25 employees were hired in the St. Croix District and there is a strategic goal to fill 20 vacancies specifically for firefighters in the St. Thomas-St. John District. George indicated that VIFS is in the process of creating a Training Division and revising the curriculum at the Fire Academy in which participants will have an opportunity to earn two certifications at the end of probation and upon completing their second year of employment. Lastly, regarding new equipment, George noted that VIFS purchased two rescue vehicles totaling $237,000, procured additional quick response vehicles, five custom-built fire apparatus, and is in the process of purchasing a vessel.
The Department of Human Services Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez presented an update on the Juvenile System and Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC). To date, YRC is housing a total of nine young people ranging from ages 14-to 18 years old. Causey-Gomez mentioned that some of the charges are inclusive of grand larceny, attempted murder, and possession of an unlicensed firearm. While incarcerated, YRC offers core subjects for academic growth and vocational opportunities such as auto mechanic and barbering classes. Causey-Gomez noted that one of the major challenges is the lack of VIDE teachers to teach in-person courses and security officers. Regarding security, officers often work overtime due to low staffing. Ultimately, Causey-Gomez recommended that renovating YRC from its current appearance that resembles jail cells and updating it to a modern rehabilitation center may prove beneficial to the youths in the long run.
Senators present at the hearing: Steven D. Payne, Sr., Javan E. James, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Dwayne DeGraff, Franklin D. Johnson, Genevieve R. Whitaker, Carla J. Joseph, and Alma Francis Heyliger. ###