ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety, chaired by Senator Kenneth L. Gittens, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building to receive testimony regarding the operations, capital projects, and initiatives per department. Invited testifiers were the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), the Virgin Islands National Guard (VING), the Virgin Islands Department of Justice (VIDOJ), the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections (VIBOC), and the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services (VIFEMS).
Committee Chairman Gittens, in his opening statement, outlined the purpose of the meeting and said it is important that the invited departments and agencies have adequate training opportunities in the event of an emergency, and he looks forward to a very robust committee meeting.
Major General Kodjo S. Knox-Limbacker, the Adjutant General, and the Commander of the Virgin Islands National Guard shared the update. According to Knox-Limbacker, VING has evolved into a responsive unit that is fully integrated into Total Force operational requirements. VING provided support to ensure safety for both domestic and national operations. Knox-Limbacker indicated that the 23rd Weapons of Mass Destruction and Civil Support Team, 73rd Army Band, 661 Military Police, Soldiers from the 786th CSSB, 104th Troop Command, and the 285th Civil Engineer Squadron provided support for the gubernatorial inaugural events, the Virgin Islands Police Department for St. Thomas Carnival, the St. John Festival, and the St. Croix Festival. Furthermore, VING supported the gubernatorial funerals, collaborated with the U.S. Secret Service during the visit of the President of the United States to the Territory, and has partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Moreover, Daryl Jaschen, Director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, stated that there are 149 staff employed at VITEMA. Out of that, there are 69 GVI employees totaling $6.3 million in salaries and 80 federally funded employees totaling $8.7 million. Jaschen noted that the federal government awarded VITEMA over a million dollars to maintain and upgrade the 9-1-1 Emergency Center under the guidelines of the Federal Communication Center. Regarding the Emergency Management System, Jaschen said that the Virgin Islands utilizes the National Incident Management System, a collaboration with federal and local partners to prevent and respond to emergency incidents. In response to Senator Alma Heyliger Francis’s inquiry regarding hurricane readiness, Jaschen noted that the federal and local teams have met for the past two years and continue to hold meetings to ensure disaster preparedness.
Concerning the Virgin Islands Department of Justice, Carol Thomas-Jacobs, the Virgin Islands Acting Attorney General, stated that the St. Thomas-St. John Criminal Division had opened 92 cases and closed 91 as of October 2022. Comparatively, the St. Croix Criminal Division has opened 121 cases and closed 92 cases. Meanwhile, in the Civil Division, Thomas-Jacobs indicated that there are 181 active pending cases, in addition, to open record requests, third-party subpoenas, and depositions. Additional updates are inclusive of DOJ signing a new lease with the Government Employees Retirement System for the GERS complex, paying rent totaling $565,850, an increase of $121,094.00, and ongoing renovation of the offices.
Wynnie Testamark, Director of the Bureau of Corrections, stated that although BOC has challenges, there have been some accomplishments to date. BOC’s achievements include increased salaries for correction officers, civilian staff, and correction supervisors. Furthermore, there has been a 75% reduction in employee grievances, an emphasis on staff wellness, and ongoing training opportunities for the staff. Testamark added that because of the new collective bargaining agreement for corrections officers, new uniforms were distributed, and employees received retroactive holiday pay.
Separately, Lisle Evelyn, Jr., Assistant Director of Emergency Medical Services with the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services, indicated that one of the greatest accomplishments is transforming into an emergency readiness operation for EMS services. Specifically, Evelyn noted that obtained were the following: the Department of Health’s Certificate of Need, DEA Registration, National Provider Identifier, the V.I. Equicare Provider Agreement, and a VIFEMS account with the National Registry of EMTs. Additionally, established vendor agreements with reputable EMS suppliers were also achieved; according to Evelyn.
Lastly, Daryl A. George, Director of the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services, noted that VIFEMS is diligently working with federal and local partners to secure funding to either repair, harden, or ultimately replace the ten fire stations that sustained structural damages during Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Furthermore, George mentioned that, through an initiative, the department acquired 11 emergency response vehicles in 2022.
Senators attending the meeting were Kenneth L. Gittens, Ray Fonseca, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Franklin D. Johnson, Diane T. Capehart, Carla J. Joseph, Javan E. James, and Alma Francis Heyliger.