LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON PUBLIC SAFETY ON ST. JOHN

Published: Jan 31, 2024

LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON PUBLIC SAFETY ON ST. JOHN

ST. JOHN – The 35th Legislature’s Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety, chaired by Senator Kenneth L. Gittens, convened in a meeting at the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room. This is the second meeting regarding security and public safety concerns in St. John. During the initial meeting on November 9, 2023, policymakers moved to subpoena the Virgin Islands Police Department’s (VIPD) leadership to ensure their attendance today. Although VIPD was present, written testimony was not provided to the Senate.

Per the subpoena, Senator Gittens conveyed his discontentment with VIPD for the lack of testimony regarding an overview of police operations, policy procedures, and initiatives relative to the safety and security of the St. John Community.

The Virgin Islands Police Department Commissioner Ray Martinez responded to a line of questioning from senators, citing that in 2023, there will be a total of 68 cases under investigation on St. John. Martinez mentioned that VIPD manages 107 cameras across the entire territory, but he did not specify the number of active cameras on St. John. The department is in the process of addressing noise complaints. Regarding modernization to combat crime, Martinez indicated that there isn’t a set budget specifically for that reason. However, capital projects include retrofitting stations as part of the beautification projects Territorywide. There are 627 undocumented immigrants in St. John, the point of entry in the Virgin Islands. Out of that, 229 are in custody by federal partners. There are ongoing initiatives with federal partners to mitigate that situation.

The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management (VITEMA) Assistant Director Stephen DeBlasio, Sr., indicated that although there are two 911 emergency call centers located on St. Thomas with sixteen dispatchers and nineteen on St. Croix, there is none on St. John. Furthermore, the existing call centers lack St. John dispatchers who can assist with navigating law enforcement through the St. John terrain. Due to the lack of cell towers, cell phone calls to 911 are directed to the British Virgin Islands. As a result, 911 calls are redirected to the call centers in the USVI. DeBlasio mentioned that during an emergency, residents should call 340-776-9110.

The Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services (VIFEMS) Acting Director, Antonio Stevens, noted that the fire and emergency medical service personnel stationed in the towns of Cruz Bay and Coral Bay to ensure a quick response to emergencies. Recently, VIFEMS purchased two fire trucks constructed specifically to navigate the unique terrain, including narrow roadways. To ensure maritime firefighting and rescue operations, VIFEMS began building a fire boat. The vessel can also be utilized to transport EMS and non-EMS patients. Separately, St. John Rescue, Inc. President Bob Malacarne weighed in and said that overall, there are twenty-four volunteer responders, four emergency vehicles, and two rescue boats. With a grant from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, St. John Rescue recently launched a junior rescue program for middle school and high school students. Crediting the efforts of a nationally certified paramedic who is an educator, St. John Rescue is compliant with local and national standards.

Senators present at the committee meeting were Kenneth L. Gittens, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Marise C. James, Javan E. James, Sr., Alma Francis Heyliger, and Franklin D. Johnson.

The Division of Public Affairs is committed to providing accurate information about meetings and events at the Virgin Islands Legislature. Visit legvi.org.

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