Law enforcement leaders on V.I. community tour


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ST. THOMAS - In an effort to reconnect with the community, top leaders from local and federal law enforcement agencies and organizations are visiting as many neighborhoods as they can in the territory.

The agencies have partnered together under the umbrella of "Project Safe Neighborhoods," a national program under the U.S. Justice Department that hosted a community meeting Tuesday at Paul M. Pearson Gardens community center on St. Thomas.

The program started a branch in the territory about a decade ago, which recently is regaining momentum through these community visits made by leaders from law enforcement agencies and other organizations.

Already the officials have visited about five neighborhoods, though they still have about as many, if not more, to go.

"We'll keep going until we have visited all of them," said Scott Bradley, founder of My Brother's Workshop.

Bradley is one of the few community leaders who comes from a non-governmental agency, as his organization is a nonprofit that helps young men who are at risk of being involved in crime, or already have been.

Most of the officials come from a variety of agencies that are overseen by the U.S. Justice Department and the V.I. Justice Department.

They represent the V.I. Police Department, U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Marshals Office, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the V.I. Housing Authority.

Crime Stoppers USVI, another nonprofit, also is represented during the meetings. The nationwide organization started in the territory about five years ago and allows anyone to call in anonymously with a tip about a crime, which the organization will then provide to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

"We're not confidential. We're anonymous. Nobody knows who you are," said Peter Burlingame, chairman of the USVI Crimestoppers board of trustees.

All of the officials at Tuesday's meeting stressed that the agencies and organizations that are trying to curb crime need the help of the people who live in the community.

Recognizing that people are afraid to communicate with law enforcement or other organizations, all of them reminded the residents who attended the meeting that without the relationship between the people and law enforcement, those committing the crimes will be more able to get away with them without repercussions.

"We can't do it alone," said DEA agent Keith McNichols.

In general, the response has been positive from the community, the officials said, though they have noticed that most of the people attending the meetings are elderly.

They have hopes to bring out more younger residents to the meetings, though they realize that the community needs to encourage the same to accomplish that.

"There's an imbalance," said Linda Ritter, a resident at Pearson Gardens.

Ritter, who has two teenage sons, said that the elderly sometimes need to encourage the youth to be a part of the community, rather than always looking down on them.

"There's always this misunderstanding," she said.

However, others said that the responsibility to change the community is primarily the responsibility of the V.I. Police Department.

Several people criticized the department, either for response times, inefficient practices or malpractice.

St. Thomas-Water Island Police Chief Darren Foy reminded the people that all of the officers who respond to calls have a supervisor, and the residents are encouraged to contact those supervisors if they feel that the officers are not doing their jobs.

He also encouraged people to call his office.

For more information about Project Safe Neighborhoods, call 228-2727 or email info@psnvi.org.

To contact Crime Stoppers USVI, call 1-800-222-8477. Crime Stoppers also can be contacted through text message by sending USVI plus the message to 274637.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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