DeJongh says he is considering 'more than three' Virgin Islanders to be next police commissioner


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ST. THOMAS - Gov. John deJongh Jr. is in talks with "more than three" candidates to become the territory's next police commissioner.

Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. said Friday that he would not discuss specific names of the potential replacements for outgoing Commissioner Henry White Jr., who made a surprise announcement earlier this week that he would resign effective Feb. 15.

White explained his decision, in part, by saying that after about a year on the job, he realized his management style was incompatible with the political structure of the territory. White said the prevalence of "nepotism, favoritism and politicism" prevented him from being able to do his job.

In the fallout from that announcement, Greaux said the governor is considering "more than three" people to replace White. Greaux would not give a high end on the number of candidates in the running.

Greaux said all of the individuals with whom the governor is speaking are "on-island right now," and said all of those under "active review are from the Virgin Islands."

When asked how the governor became aware of the individuals under consideration - for instance, if they had submitted job applications in response to a posted vacancy - Greaux said the candidates are "persons that are well-known in the law enforcement community."

The governor and "some key members of his senior staff" have been leading the discussions with the candidates, Greaux said.

"Clearly the governor has a vision of where he wants to see the VIPD grow over the course of the next two years," Greaux said. "So he's been speaking with candidates who can best assist him in fulfilling that vision."

Greaux said the new commissioner should have the necessary law enforcement experience to deal with the major crime issues facing the territory, particularly the rise in gun violence.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens, a retired V.I. police lieutenant who has been named chairman of the 30th Legislature's Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, said he was "appalled and baffled" by White's abrupt resignation and said the V.I. Police Department is "in desperate need of leadership stability."

"At a time when crime is on an increase and citizens of the Virgin Islands feel unsafe from the criminal element, I am troubled by the frequent turnover of leadership in the Police Department," Gittens said in a press release. "Each time there is a 'changing of the guards' the Police Department, community and businesses feel the impact."

Gittens said White's resignation is also cause for concern in light of the federal consent decree governing the management of the department.

Gittens was not the only senator to express concern about White's departure.

"I'm not surprised, but it's a disappointment," Senator At-large Craig Barshinger said. "We bent over backward to accommodate the governor on this one."

Both senators encouraged the governor to select a local replacement for White, who spent his law enforcement career based in Georgia; Washington, D.C.; New York; Pennsylvania; and New Jersey, according to his resume.

"We have excellence in our midst," Barshinger said.

Gittens added that the lack of police leadership became particularly evident even prior to White's announcement, during Festival season on St. Croix. Not only was St. Croix Deputy Chief James Parris acting as chief while Chief Christopher Howell continued - and continues - to recover from gunshot wounds, but White also left the territory "during the height of the St. Croix Festival season," according to Gittens.

"Commissioner White's departure is at a time when the Police Department is already lacking leadership in many vital positions, there is no assistant police commissioner, and there is an acting chief of police with no deputy chief," Gittens said.

The St. Croix Festival ran from Dec. 21 through Jan. 6. White acknowledged in an interview last week that he was off-island for at least the previous 10 days, which would have placed him out of the territory during the final weekend of Festival events.

St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Darren Foy was named acting commissioner for at least part of White's absence, according to police spokeswoman Melody Rames.

V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer said the territory needs a commissioner who is willing to roll up his sleeves and get involved on a day-to-day level.

"It's not an easy job," he said.

Greaux said the assistant commissioner position has been "under review for quite a while" and the governor is "actively speaking with" individuals regarding the position. He declined to comment on the issue of White being out of the territory during Festival.

"I don't think we're going to comment on Commissioner White," he said. "It's in the past."

Politics and law enforcement

Gittens, a freshman senator, said he did not disagree with some of the reasons White gave for his departure, including his complaint about political meddling and nepotism.

"I have seen that under this administration," Gittens said. "The Police Department is too political. But there's no room for politics in the Police Department. People's lives are at stake."

Frazer declined to comment specifically about White's assessment of the interplay between politics and law enforcement in the territory, but he said there is at least one major difference between executive leadership in the Virgin Islands compared to other governments in the United States.

Frazer said at least three tiers of government oversight exist in most places in the United States: at the city, county and state levels. So, when politics at the city level interfere with a case, the county or state can step in, Frazer said.

"Where in other jurisdictions politics may come up, the job can be deferred to another level," he said. "In the Virgin Islands, we can't defer things to another level."

- Contact Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.

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