Q&A With Ray – Source Sits Down with VIPD’s Commissioner Nominee

V.I. Police Commissioner nominee Ray Martinez says top priorities within his first 100 days include violent crime, implementing new policing strategies and working with everyone in his department to “make the most” of what they have by taking a look at scheduling and manpower. (Source photo by Ananta Pancham)

The Source had the opportunity Tuesday to sit down with V.I. Police Commissioner nominee Ray Martinez and talk about his more immediate goals, solutions for some of the department’s challenges and how he sees his first 100 days in office shaping up.

At the onset, Martinez described himself as a “proud native Virgin Islander” who has worked for nearly three decades in government, a career that started with moving back home after military service and evolved through experience as a firefighter, labor relations manager, V.I. Police Department Internal Affairs director and special assistant to the Police commissioner, to, most recently, head of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission.

Here’s what he had to say:

The Source: Coming into VIPD, what do you think are your bigger issues?
Martinez: It’s just not one specific area that’s troubling to us. First and foremost, it’s violent crime. Here it is that we’ve had 29 murders in the territory, and we have all heard and read that the Virgin Islands per capita is up there in terms of homicides, ranking between the first and third highest in the world. To say that’s not a good thing is an understatement – especially for a place that’s such a great tourist destination. It’s important for us to take a look at the violent crimes and start to try to use different models and inject different strategies to reduce this. So violent crime is really the focus, and we get there through a collective effort, because it’s a VIPD issue, but it’s a community issue as well.

Most recently, we’ve also had to prioritize our COVID response efforts, particularly in the past week with the continued increase in our numbers. The governor is now looking at another executive order and continuing to strategize on how we can reduce the number of positives we’re seeing. But at the end of the day, I don’t think the individuals that are causing our numbers to go up really understand the effect they’re having: we are now up to 36 fatalities territorywide, and we are now seeing where the positives are affecting adolescents. So, from Government House right down to VIPD, we are looking at changing our response to combat this pressing issue on the rise.

The Source: How does that impact your policing efforts?
Martinez: You mean, does it take away from some of our active policing response in terms of enforcement or prevention – of course it does. But at the end of the day, we have to make those changes. We have to change priority to be part of the COVID response – again as we speak, we’re over 30 fatalities, and as of this morning, 197 current cases territorywide, and we’ve all heard that COVID is something we are going to live with for a long time, so we are changing things up and adapting.

The Source: For either issue, you need more people, so how is your manpower looking, and what are some of the recruitment strategies you are considering?
Martinez: The numbers that we have now are roughly anywhere from, territorywide, 20-22 percent less than it was some 15 years ago. We just began in Atlanta a few weeks ago a huge recruitment drive, and our Human Resources department has in fact received some positive hits and requests for information, so we are hoping these kinds of efforts will help to increase our numbers. But, our manpower issue didn’t occur overnight, it’s been ongoing for over 10 years, and what we have to do is to improvise, adapt and overcome by dealing with the numbers that we have and changing our policing methodology. And that’s one of the primary elements of the plan I’m going to have going forward – to deal with the numbers we have and augment them with the policing strategies that are tested and evidence-based, coupled with the technology that we are putting in place now.

The Source: Can you tell us more about this strategy?
Martinez: I refer to it as my hybrid strategy, which includes using traditional policing – our guys jumping in cars doing regular patrols and hot-spot policing that puts our officers where the shots are being fired – and using that alongside the ShotSpotter software we have, the integration of closed-circuit TV and the use of license plate readers that we are looking at so that when folks illegally discharge weapons or engage in some type of crime, we have the tech to assist with the issues and bring those perpetrators to justice.

The Source: If we’re working with what we have, what could VIPD use immediately to help?
Martinez: First thing is of course, from a departmental standpoint, that we have to do better as it pertains to our response. You’ve heard folks speak about police response has been late or there is no response to calls, so we have to do better with that but, we have to begin from the inside out. We have to get away from the antiquated policing methodology and in addition, by incorporating those things we spoke about before, we will see an increase in our response and also in our ability to make arrests and close cases. Because it’s not just about an arrest, but an arrest that’s going to lead to prosecution.

Second part, externally, is that we require the community’s assistance, but how do we get the buy-in to what we’re selling? Well, we’re going to by the community seeing us doing our jobs, making the arrest, getting the prosecutions. Time and again, you’ve heard that we’re not getting the help we need because the community doesn’t trust the police department, and I’m going to say that it’s not a trust issue more than it’s a confidence issue. They trust us, that’s why they call us. But once they call, the confidence level drops because we’re not able to follow through with arrests and prosecution so when the community starts to see that we’re pulling our own weight first, they’re going to be more open to assisting us with the information they need.

The Source: Within your first 100 days, what’s your game plan?
Martinez: In prioritizing our needs, the first thing I need to do is get with my executive team, our officers, supervisors and our unions, bring us all to the table. And we’re going to have to work together to change the way that we police, and that is going to start with our scheduling. Folks want to see the boots on the ground, but right now as a department, we’re splintered by all the services we provide. So, I’ve got to get all the players at the table, and we have to come up with one way moving forward, one process to implement. Once we all buy in, then we are going to be able to move forward as one team.

Commissioner-nominee Martinez will host Wednesday night’s episode of “Inside the Cabinet,” on the Government House Facebook page at 6 p.m., giving residents the chance to ask questions live, while also learning more about his vision, raising morale and getting community buy-in.