Panel: Smith Bay community group's effort to curb area crime should start with youth


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ST. THOMAS - The Smith Bay Community Action Commission met with local law enforcement leaders on Tuesday night at the Smith Bay Business Center to discuss ways to improve crime rates within their own neighborhood and elsewhere in the territory.

The theme that seemed to keep popping up: Start with the youth.

"The turning around part is not that hard," said Scott Bradley, founder of My Brother's Workshop, a St. Thomas nonprofit that helps at-risk youth. "I've worked with kids who have shot people five times and kids who have been shot five times."

Bradley was one member of a panel who answered questions proposed by about two dozen community members from Smith Bay, other parts of the island and a few even from St. Croix.

The V.I. Police Department, U.S. Attorney's Office, the V.I. Housing Authority and CrimeStoppers USVI also were represented.

"A lot of these individuals need a lot more love shown to them," said St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Darren Foy. "Everything starts at home, and everything ends at home."

Community members suggested that community leaders encourage more government funding to programs aimed toward rewarding and encouraging youth, especially ones that give them more outlets to express themselves.

Julia Landos Jean-Baptiste suggested creating spoken word poetry programs in the schools; Walter Brown suggested reform schools for at-risk youth; and Paul Lockhart suggested that the government better fund existing programs that are proving successful already.

While many of the people were former or current politicians or political hopefuls, Smith Bay Community Action Commission Vice President Samuel Rey said that any involvement in the area is welcome and appreciated.

"Smith Bay has been known as a criminal place," Rey said, noting that it has seen a lot of improvement since the community action commission began three years ago.

However, Smith Bay is not the only community that is having these talks.

The panel is part of an ongoing effort, Project Safe Neighborhoods, which is a collaboration between local and federal law enforcement, as well as other community groups, to end gun violence.

Though Project Safe Neighborhoods is a national program, it began in the territory only in 2003. The community involvement meetings began in 2010.

The panel addresses recurring questions, many of which pertain to the shortage of police officers overall, the shortage of police officers on foot and the lack of trust between officers and the public.

On Tuesday, community members also addressed sentencing policies, asking primarily about statutes concerning the possession of unlicensed firearms.

"The penalties for having an unlicensed firearm are pitiful," said V.I. Police Detective Mark Joseph.

Joseph said that it is of the utmost importance that the community start taking possession of unlicensed firearms more seriously.

"We need to have the authority to go up to any person who we see with a gun on their person and ask them to produce a license," Joseph said.

Sen. Judi Buckley, a founding member of CrimeStoppers USVI, explained to the audience that those who help law enforcement do not have to do so directly and can contact the CrimeStoppers USVI instead.

The all-volunteer group takes anonymous tips, she explained, though still is able to grant rewards if those tips lead to the seizure of property or an arrest.

"To this date, no tipster has ever been discovered because of a fault in the CrimeStoppers system," Buckley said. "We put a lot of money in people's pockets."

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

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