Querrard: Increased police presence is not because of Capehart

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ST. CROIX - Hours after Sen. Diane Capehart and a companion were held up and robbed at gunpoint Monday night in Frederiksted, V.I. Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr. issued a statement announcing some changes within the department that will increase police presence on the streets.

On Tuesday, Querrard defended his decision to suspend in-house police training mandated by a federal consent decree and authorize the use of overtime hours in an effort to increase police presence in the community.

Querrard said he takes exception to anyone who would think that changes have been made because Capehart is an elected official and is getting special treatment.

"It is certainly not because of who she is," he said. "Everybody is important to us, and we have continuously tried to change our strategies to get a handle on the crime here."

Querrard said he was disheartened Tuesday when he received some calls personally and heard via various media outlets that the change was viewed as something done as a special circumstance.

"I reach out and try to get the message out and change initiatives whenever we have a situation where we think a change in the game plan can work," he said. "Nobody is more important to us. No crime is more important. Every crime gets the same attention and all investigations get the same weight."

Despite Querrard's view, no broad changes to get more police manpower on the streets were made, even in light of an increased number of daytime armed robberies of local businesses in recent weeks.

According to the preliminary report to police, Capehart and her friend had been out about 8:15 p.m. Monday, putting up campaign posters in the area as part of her campaign for re-election when they were approached by at least two gunmen who demanded their valuables. After taking their cellular telephones and an undisclosed amount of cash, the robbers made their getaway in Capehart's navy blue 2013 Jeep Wrangler.

The robbers stopped to pick up three more people who were hiding in bushes a few feet up the road before driving off to the east, police said.

Querrard, in his statement about the incident, said he was suspending all in-service training and ordering more officers to patrol the streets territorywide, despite the trainings being mandated by a federal consent decree. The commissioner also lifted overtime restrictions currently in place and ordered "results and productivity" for the time worked.

"We have a lot of training mandated by the consent decree, but our priority is community safety - not for a selected few, but for all," he said in a statement issued just after midnight Tuesday morning.

Querrard said residents should rest assured that even when the department heads do not give out specific information about changes, tactics and initiatives they have put in place, they still are working to be one step ahead of the criminal element.

"We are always working, but we won't tip our hands every time," he said. "We work in-house, and we also continue to ask for the community's help, because we know that for every crime that occurs, at least one other person knows about it before, during or after it happens."

Querrard said the suspension of training and change in overtime policy may last for no more than a week or so until they get a grasp on the crime situation.

He said he recently has sent communication to the heads of other local agencies with law enforcement officers, asking for assistance to help supplement the work force.

"We all live here, and this job is not a 9-to-5 job. We have to build the team and make a difference," he said.

In a statement released from her office Tuesday, Capehart thanked the department for their quick response and professionalism following her ordeal and for the work they do daily.

"I would like to thank the men and women of the Virgin Islands Police Department for their quick response and professionalism. I understand the great undertaking of keeping our community safe, especially with limited manpower," Capehart said.

While no one was injured in the robbery, Capehart said that the experience was traumatizing, and it gives her a completely different perspective on the issue of crime in her community.

"Though I was not physically hurt, I suspect that the effect of the experience will be with me for a long time. And while I lost valuable property, I escaped with my life," Capehart said. "Being a victim presents an entirely different perspective on the issue of crime in our Virgin Islands."

At press time, Capehart's stolen Jeep, which was covered in campaign posters and bumper stickers, had not been recovered.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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