ST THOMAS, USVI -- Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard told members of the Legislature on Friday that the US Virgin Islands Police Department is adjusting crime-fighting strategies to ensure public safety while cutting spending and reducing costs.
Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard
At the Police Department’s annual budget hearing, Querrard said VIPD’s 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operations stress personnel, equipment and manpower deployments. In determining fiscal requirements and formulating an effective budget, senior police officials have completed an analysis of the operational and administrative needs of the department.
“With an understanding of the nature of police work, our mission and current fiscal constraints, we believe that we have arrived at a realistic budget to achieve the stated goals of the department,” Querrard told the Legislature’s Finance Committee.
Querrard requested $56,343,905 from the General Fund for fiscal year 2014, which allocates 81 percent to salaries and fringe benefits. The VIPD budget also includes $850,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund, $150,000 from the Casino Revolving Fund and $2,514,432 in federal grants.
As the department struggles to cut costs in light of the territory’s fiscal challenges, Querrard listed several required expenditures for the coming year. Some $1.5 million will be spent on promotions mandated by a consent decree, more than $1.7 million to add 90 new officers to the force, more than $8 million to fund overtime, and $587,700 to replace expired body armor as mandated by contract.
Querrard said the department will continue to maximize the use of federal grants and funding from sources beyond the General Fund. In the current fiscal year, the Police Department received $811,737 from the US Department of Transportation to fund the Virgin Islands Office of Highway Safety, which promotes, manages and assists with traffic initiatives. Another $350,000 was made available through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Grant will fund three new vehicles and train and re-certify commercial vehicle inspectors.
VIPD continues to advance cost-saving measures, with staff adjusting work spaces to reduce rental and utility costs. The department is investing in new facilities and stations that will be fiscally beneficial in the long term, Querrard said.
The department is currently seeking proposals to build an advanced Training Bureau on St Croix, a project projected to cost $2,100,000.
“Our long range plan is to modify the building, centralizing all administrative services and components of police operations,” Querrard said.
On St Thomas, police officials are working with the Housing Authority to relocate the Mariel C. Newton Command to a first-floor location better suited for serving the community and visitors, a collaboration that “will yield crime fighting benefits for both agencies.” The move should save the department $23,907 annually.
In April, Querrard and other key representatives of the Police Department participated in a two-day summit in Washington, DC hosted by the US Department of Justice. The meetings focused on fulfilling the remaining work required by the consent decree that looms over the department.
“Essentially, the organizational structure of the department plays a crucial role in accomplishing the mandates of the consent decree,” Querrard explained to legislators.
Promotions are one roadblock, according to the commissioner.
“Until our department is able to provide an opportunity that would entice our officers to apply for upper management positions the VIPD may remain under this consent decree for longer than we would like,” Querrard said, adding the Department has already spent $5,167,318 in consent decree related costs.
Querrard said the Training Bureau continues to make great strides in enhancing the professionalism and skills of VIPD employees in accordance with the mandates of the Consent Decree. This year’s in-service training focused mainly on the five signed policies related to the consent decree: acceptance of citizen complaints, canine (K-9) operations, electronic control weapon, OC-spray and impact weapons. Six additional new policies were included focusing on arrests, vehicle pursuits, spike strip use, sniper and tactical operations, reporting, investigating and reviewing use of force.
Officers have also received training in various aspects of homeland security, the commissioner said, such as terrorism, emergency response, and weapons of mass destruction tactical operations.
The Training Academy in the St Croix District graduated 10 new law enforcement officers on May 24 -- nine to serve with the Police Department and one as a Port Authority Officer. On June 24, a class commenced in the St Thomas/St John District, with 22 police recruits expected to graduate in December.
An important component of crime-fighting efforts is public relations and public information, Querrard noted, assuring the community that being responsive to the public continues to be a high priority for VIPD.
“We endeavor to be proactive in disseminating our information, innovative in our approach to distributing that message, and responsive to the media and the public we serve,” the commissioner said.
Querrard presented some crime statistics during his presentation: murders are down in the territory by 23.5 percent from the previous fiscal year, and burglaries are slightly down, by 3.4 percent. Crimes against property, such as vehicle thefts and arsons, are also down.
Despite the Virgin Islands Police Department’s implementation of special initiatives to deter crime, however, 2013 unfortunately saw a 5 percent increase in crimes against persons. The year recorded a 10.5 percent jump in robberies. Every assigned officer in the territory has been mandated to make inspections of troubled areas and estates to reverse that trend, according to Querrard.
In Fiscal Year 2013, police recovered 130 firearms -- 55 for the St Thomas/St John District, and 75 on St Croix.
The Offices of the Chiefs of Police have developed a multi-layered approach to proactive law enforcement. From long-term strategic initiatives that focus on multiple aspects of criminal activity, to short term missions targeting a particular situation or location within the community, police are working comprehensively, and they are united in the purpose of a safer US Virgin Islands.
“Our officers have received new vehicles, tools and training to manage successfully the full scope of policing. From working in concert with other governmental agencies, to the most elementary aspect of policing -- foot patrol; we are vigorously engaged in meeting our mandates,” Querrard said.