Senate's Public Safety committee cracks down on crime
Published: August 20, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The 30th Legislature's Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice voted favorably on four law enforcement bills Monday, advancing to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
One of the bills would make it illegal for convicted felons to possess body armor, and another would give the V.I. Attorney General's office the power to charge individuals who throw bodily fluids onto V.I. Police or Corrections officers with an offense punishable by up to five years in prison.
A bill expanding the radius around schools and publicly owned recreation centers in which it is an additional violation to carry unlicensed firearms also passed. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Gittens, would make it illegal to possess unlicensed firearms within 1,000 feet of school bus stops and senior centers.
Another bill establishes a legislative platform for punishing online crimes, including hacking, fraud, stalking, harassment and cyberbullying.
V.I. Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr. testified that police officers have often found body armor in the hands of convicted felons when re-arresting them for violent crimes. The use of the Internet facilitates the purchase of a wide range of protective gear that Querrard said is being used by street criminals, who continue to engage in shootings and violent crimes after their release from prison.
"I can tell you of countless incidents when felons we have been arresting not only had firearms but also had body armor," Querrard said. "If we learn of individuals who are possessing it, we know that those individuals need to be watched."
Federal law already prohibits persons convicted of a violent crime from possessing or wearing body armor except in cases where their employment would require them to do so.
The local penalties for possessing body armor would be up to three years in prison, according to the proposed bill.
Senators Sammuel Sanes, Gittens, Judi Buckley, Clarence Payne III and Craig Barshinger voted in favor of the measure.
Another bill sponsored by Sanes is designed to protect police and Corrections officers from having inmates spit at them or throw bodily fluids on them. The bill would make assault with bodily fluids a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. It would also make contaminating food with bodily fluids a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine up to $1,000.
Corrections Bureau Director Julius Wilson testified that in the last 18 months, Corrections staff had been spit on or had urine thrown at them six times. Without a law in place, the infractions had been dealt with only internally through administrative procedures, he said.
"This type of act is very debilitating. It really affects your doing your job," Wilson said.
Sanes, Gittens, Buckley, Payne and Barshinger voted in favor of the measure.
In introducing the bill expanding the radius in which it is illegal to carry an unlicensed firearm around a school or publicly owned recreational center, Gittens rattled off a list of recent shootings outside public housing communities, including Bergs Home, Oswald Harris Court and Mutual Homes.
"We should not have to imprison our children in our homes to keep them safe," Gittens said. "They should be able to roam and play in these areas designated for them."
The bill expands the area of protection around schools, senior centers and recreational facilities that are publicly owned from 100 feet to 1,000 feet. Under V.I. Code Title 14 Chapter 113 Section 2253, the penalties for persons caught with unlicensed firearms within this radius are doubled.
Sanes, Gittens, Buckley and Barshinger voted in favor of the measure.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Diane Capehart would establish a platform for the Attorney General's office to prosecute technological crimes locally.
The bill would make crimes committed through the use of a technological device including the theft of computers; the forgery of email headers to create spam; the transmission of false data; tampering with documents; and cyberstalking and harassment misdemeanors or felonies with specific penalties.
Currently, according to Attorney General Vincent Frazer, most Internet crimes committed in the territory, and in most other jurisdictions, are passed off to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution at the federal level.
"It is still prudent to have our local territorial statute to deal with the computer crimes so that we have the option to prosecute computer crimes when the federal government decides not to prosecute, for their own reasons," Frazer said.
Reuben Molloy, director of the V.I. Information Technology Bureau, testified in support of the bill, offering national statistics that cybercrime is on the rise. He outlined protective infrastructures the bureau has erected around the V.I. government's information systems but urged that more can be done as technology evolves to sharpen security policies and enforcement of cybercrimes in the territory.
Buckley, Barshinger, Sanes and Gittens voted in favor of the measure.
Sen. Alicia Hansen was absent from the committee meeting, and Sen. Tregenza Roach was excused.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.