Concerns at Recent Savan Town Hall Are the Same as They Were 6 Years Ago

V.I. Police Sgt. Milton Petersen speaks to the audience at Thursday’s forum. (Screen capture from Zoom)

A smattering of Savan residents let public safety officials know in clear terms Thursday night that they do not feel supported by those charged with serving their community.

After a lengthy array of presentations by everyone from V.I. Police Department Commissioner Trevor Velinor, VIPD Crime Prevention Officer Milton Petersen, U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert and Sen. Dwayne M. DeGraff that all focused on the oft-repeated theme of, “if you see something, say something,” several people who had gathered at the Romeo Malone Center near the Savan basketball courts lured by the promise of having their concerns heard, made it clear they have little confidence in the police.

“Why would I say something to you when I see you standing there with the people who are the problem,” said one resident.

Most agreed that violent crime had subsided recently, “but that’s because they are making money,” another person said referring to those who are selling drugs and running brothels in the historic community that has been beset in recent years by crime, crumbling infrastructure and neglect.

Another woman, whose son had been killed “up on the hill” above Savan, was adamant about the danger and futility of “saying something.” She said that after her son was killed she had been working with some people in the community who did see something, and the minute the police showed up to talk to those folks, “they disappeared.”

Several residents said if the police wanted to do something to help the community they needed to “start walking the streets” in the dark and all of the nooks and crannies, not just Market Square – which presents its own unique problems, according the several residents who spoke up about what they are facing and what they need.

Petersen acknowledged there are police officers involved in criminal activity, calling up a recent bust in Florida of VIPD officers who were charged with involvement in cocaine trafficking.

But, he said, “do you trust me.” Heads nodded. That is because Petersen is well known to and visible in the community. And that was the other very clear message.

“We need the police to get out of their cars,” one man said.

It wasn’t that long ago that police officers were walking the Savan beat, and though the problems discussed Thursday were the same back then, there were officers the community could rely upon. They were known entities.

At a town hall meeting in the same building in 2015 VIPD Crime Prevention Officers Maxwell Carty and Michael Turnbull suggested that their bureau’s decrease in manpower was resulting in a lack of police visibility in Savan, and that in turn was leading to a decrease in faith in law enforcement.

According to one knowledgeable source, when Carty and Turnbull retired, no one stepped into their shoes.

Another issue raised Thursday night – which was also addressed in the meeting six years ago – was the absence of any visible results from the surveillance cameras scattered about the area.

“What do they actually record,” one person asked Thursday night.

In 2015, then Special Assistant to the Commissioner Kenneth Blake sought to dispel a rumor that the cameras weren’t actually working, stating that rumors to that effect were completely false.

What is not false, is the lack of lighting on the dark, narrow streets, which residents also see as a serious problem, not only because the darkness provides perfect cover for crime, but also because the hilly, historic neighborhood is full of now crumbling steps.

A law enforcement official not authorized to speak for the VIPD said Friday that the lighting is not the purview of the Police Department and that attempts to reach out to other agencies, such as Public Works, is most often met with silence.

Another law enforcement official said the perception of police corruption and danger is overblown.

“There are no people who have been hurt for providing evidence.”

The perception will change, he said, when police officers once again interact face to face with the community. But, the knowledgeable source said, “VIPD needs to start doing its work first. VIPD needs to have some successes before the community will trust them.”