Henry White, (above) at left, with VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove and Sharon Coldren, and Dr. Mercedes Dullum, (below) at right, with Donna Roberts, center, and Debra Liburd.
Acting V.I. Police Department Commissioner Henry White got an earful last week from St. John residents fed up with violence on Cruz Bay streets and excessive noise in Coral Bay.
About 50 residents filled the Cruz Bay Battery to meet White and Acting V.I. Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mercedes Dullum during a meet and greet event on Tuesday evening, January 10.
“I moved here from Florida and the transition has been good because we’ve been coming here for so long and we actually own property on St. John,” said Dullum.
The Acting Health Commissioner — who, along with White, faced the Senate Committee on Rules and Judiciary last week — is focusing on learning all she can about the department she will head.
“Right now I’m trying to learn about the department and focusing on gathering as much information as I can,” said Dullum. “The department has a huge regulatory role and before any changes come, we’re going to get a handle on everything going on now.”
The recent upheavals at Morris deCastro Clinic in Cruz Bay — which stopped offering services when nurses protested working with the clinic administrator — are over, according to Dullum.
“The clinic is open and all of the services are available,” she said.
The former administrator was transferred to a facility on St. Thomas, Dullum added.
While Dullum shook hands and spoke with many residents at the meet and greet, an overwhelming number of attendees came out to vent their frustrations to Acting VIPD Commissioner White.
“I’m having a lot of problems in Coral Bay,” said Kenneth Marsh. “I can’t rest at night with the noise. I need some help.”
“The whole community is suffering from the music playing until 5:30 a.m.,” said Marsh. “This is happening every single night. Someone needs to do something.”
Coral Bay also needs a police presence, Marsh told the acting commissioner.
“There is no police protection after 6 p.m.,” he said. “When you call the police station it takes one-and-a-half hours for them to get there. This is a serious problem.”
Laurie Vankuren, who lives in downtown Cruz Bay, asked White to help with the escalating crime in town.
“I have lived in Cruz Bay for almost 20 years and it’s never been this bad,” said Vankuren. “There is drug dealing going on right in the open. It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid.”
“I’ve lived here a long time and I’ve never been afraid before,” Vankuren said. “It’s going on right outside our doors. You can hear everything; it’s scary.”
Most residents complaining about the downtown Cruz Bay area were speaking of the street which runs from Connections to the U.S. Post Office, where several people have recently been stabbed and beaten.
“It’s such a small downtown area, yet it seems that the local police are not getting a handle on this,” said Vankuren. “I just don’t want to be afraid anymore. If tourists are afraid to walk down the streets at night, they’re not going to come back.”
Several residents asked White to ensure additional foot patrols in the area as a way to keep drug deals off the streets. White listened to residents’ concerns and explained that the issue is bigger than the just the VIPD.
“There has to be a concerted effort to address this,” said the Acting VIPD Commissioner. “We have to do our job too, but this is not just a police issue. One thing I can tell you is that we will do our jobs, but we need to have people on board working with us.”
VIPD officers are often too easy on criminals, explained Theodora Moorehead.
“The bottom line is foot patrols,” she said. “You rarely see police out of their vehicles and walking down the street. Most guys have no respect for the police because they are too easy on them.”
“You have to make it uncomfortable for them,” said Moorehead. “We need constant patrols.”
In addition to the St. John specific issues White heard about last week, the Acting VIPD Commissioner also faces the federal consent decree mandated for the department and territory-wide morale issues.
“We’re behind as far as the time line with complying with the consent decree, so we have to deal with that,” said White. “We also have morale issues, the eight percent pay cut and we’ve lost some veteran people to retirement. These are very challenging times and something needs to be done.”
“I have faith in my experience, background and skill set to be able to make the changes that we need to make and take the department ahead,” he said. “I have a very attentive and professional staff which has been a huge help.”
After facing the Rules Committee, White and Dullum will face the full V.I. Senate which will ultimately decide if Governor John deJongh’s nominations are approved or not.