Golden shovels gleamed in the sun as V.I. Gov. Charles Turnbull along with senators and dignitaries marked the ceremonial groundbreaking of the V.I. Police Department’s permanent Coral Bay Substation on Wednesday morning, October 25.
The road to seeing the substation become reality has been a long one, and is not over yet.
Despite the ceremony, VIPD officials do not have the required Coastal Zone Management permit to actually start construction. Police have submitted an application to CZM, but it has not been approved.
Officials do, however, have about $500,000 in funding and a contractor for the project, Bryan Chick Construction Services. Once the permits are obtained, construction should take about six months, explained Chick.
Although it’s unlikely the one-story, 20-foot by 40-foot building, which will be located between the Coral Bay Fire Station and Skinny Legs Restaurant and be able to staff six officers, will be completed by June 2007 as hoped, community members welcomed the effort.
Serving Half of St. John
“Today for me is a great day,” said Alvis Christian, a Coral Bay resident and Executive Director of the John’s Folly Learning Institute. “I think back to the warriors, the police officers, who toiled this area.”
“When we talk about a VIPD Substation coming to Coral Bay, it’s not just Coral Bay proper that will be served, but the East End, Bordeaux and Mandhal — half of St. John,” Christian continued. “This shows that the governor and the (VIPD) commissioner saw it fit to carry on the work the forefathers started.”
“We are very glad this project is going forward,” said Coral Bay Community Council president Sharon Coldren. “Thanks to everyone in government who made it happen.”
The development boom in the Coral Bay area has led to an increased need for public services, explained Turnbull.
“In the last decade, St. John has grown considerably to areas previously uninhabited,” said Turnbull. “This increase in population results in a growing demand for public services, particularly in the area of public safety.”
Crime fighting is the responsibility of the government and the residents of the Virgin Islands, Turnbull explained.
“Fighting crime is the responsibility of all of us,” he said. “By working together, we can make our islands safer. All of us must do our part.”
“I am optimistic that our future will be better than our past,” Turnbull added.
“Long Time Coming”
The substation project, which is about two years old due to previous problems with securing adequate funding, is long over-due, according to VIPD Com-missioner Elton Lewis.
“The substation has been a long time coming,” he said. “We have all been frustrated with the delays of this project, but today we are experiencing the fruits of our labor. This will go a long way toward increasing the confidence and trust in your police department.”
While having state of the art facilities is an essential part of an effective police force, bodies are needed to fill positions, explain-ed VIPD territorial chief Novelle Francis.
Staff and Resources Still Needed
“This is a momentous occasion for the folks of Coral Bay,” said Francis. “But it is only half the solution. It’s important to have staff and resources. I plead to the St. John residents that the VIPD is in need of a few men and women.”
“If you start from now, we’ll train you and you’ll be ready to staff this area,” he continued.
All Coral Bay residents desire greater police protection, accor-ding to Senator at Large Craig Barshinger.
“The people want to be free from crime,” Barshinger said. “They want to have trust in their police. They want their police to be friendly.”
“They want their police to be well-trained,” he continued. “They want their police to be well-equipped — they must have all the tools necessary. Which brings us to why we are here today.”
While the substation is welcome, police officers should not use the building to hide from the community, Barshinger added.
“Let us not create a police station for police to hide inside,” he said. “Let the police presence emanate out from here and let the police presence be felt.”
The construction of the substation shows the VIPD’s commitment to the community, ex-plained Senator Pedro Encarnacion, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice.
“The VIPD has shown an extraordinary effort to keep our communities safe,” said Encarnacion. “This might seem simple, but it provides hope to St. John residents that the police are determined to keep their community safe. It will pay off.”
Residents have been calling for a police presence in Coral Bay for years, since escalating burglaries and armed robberies have plagued the area. VIPD responders from Cruz Bay had often taken upwards of 30 minutes to reach the scene of a crime on the eastern end of St. John.
That changed last year when VIPD officers were granted the use of an office in the Cocoloba shopping complex as a temporary substation.
Plans Delayed by Lack of Funds
Plans for the permanent VIPD substation were delayed due to problems with securing adequate funding and contractors for the project. Senator Roosevelt David first proposed legislation to fund the substation in 2002. The $250,000 allotted for the project at that time was not sufficient to cover the costs of the project.
Designs of the station were altered and additional funds were requested in legislation proposed by Senator Louis Hill. A total of $509,797 has been allocated for the project and contractors are hopeful the project will take six to eight months once construction begins. It is unclear how long it will take VIPD officials to secure the required CZM permit for the building.