Committing crimes for profit is easy to get away with on St. John.
The Virgin Islands Police Department’s below average 2006 arrest rate could be sending this message to those looking to make a quick buck on the island.
The ease with which one can get away with breaking the law even attracts St. Thomas residents to St. John to commit crimes, which was evident in early January, when a group made up at least partially of St. Thomas residents was involved in a police chase and shooting that left one suspect dead.
The group of six fled after a VIPD officer attempted to pull them over for their alleged role in several third-degree burglaries that had been committed in Fish Bay just days earlier.
One Arrest in 2006
Three suspects — all St. Thomas residents, two of whom were minors — were taken into custody, while one of the suspects was shot and killed at the scene, and two suspects remain at large.
The statistics kept by St. John Tradewinds based on the number of crimes and arrests reported on the St. John police blotter, an unofficial record of crimes, revealed just one arrest for the more than 200 crimes committed in 2006.
This arrest record is far below the national average, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2005 crime statistics, which was the most recent data available as of Wednesday, January 31, 2007, at www.fbi.gov.
The FBI data for 5,285 cities with populations of less than 10,000 — the most comparable group for St. John, which has an estimated population of 5,000 — showed a much higher percentage of arrests than the island of St. John.
There were 18,707 burglaries committed in 2005 in the cities under 10,000 population group — whose total population is 17,810,797 — with an arrest rate of 1.05 per 1,000 inhabitants. Conversely, there were 125 burglaries — four first-degree, nine second-degree and 112 third-degree — committed on St. John in 2006, none of which were solved.
To compare to the national average, there should have been 5.25 arrests for burglaries on St. John.
In the cities under 10,000 population group in 2005, there were 3,771 robberies with an arrest rate of 0.212 per 1,000 residents; 1,695 rapes with an arrest rate of 0.095 per 1,000 residents; 80,169 larcenies with an arrest rate of 4.5 per 1,000 residents; and 1,248 arsons with an arrest rate of 0.070 per 1,000 residents.
By comparison, in 2006 St. John had four armed robberies, with no arrests; 77 grand larcenies, with one arrest; and three arsons, with no arrests.
To compare to the national average, there should have been 1.06 arrests for armed robbery; 22.5 arrests for grand larceny; and 0.35 arrests for arson.
Above Average Rape Arrest Rate
St. John actually beat the national average when it comes to rapes — there were three rapes on the island last year, with two arrests for the crime.
There were also five shootings, and one stabbing on St. John, crimes which the FBI does not keep statistics for. There were no arrests for any of the St. John shootings or stabbings.
The St. John community can help decrease the amount of crime on the island in many different ways, according to VIPD spokesperson Shawna Richards, who advised residents not to buy goods from a citizen selling merchandise at a good rate who can’t explain where it came from.
“If you find that people in a community are selling items or are buying items from someone who knows a good deal and can’t account for where the merchandise came from, don’t buy it,” she said. “Don’t keep the cycle of crime going.”
Keep Doors, Windows Clear
The VIPD urges residents to use simple measures, such as clearing large plants away from doors and windows and installing motion detection lights, to scare potential burglars away, explained Richards.
“The police department urges residents to be more proactive in protecting their homes and properties,” she said. “If areas around your home are overgrown, it provides easy access, so we ask residents to keep areas around their home clear of overgrown brush, especially around the windows and doors. Sometimes something as simple as installing a motion sensor light can provide an added security measure.”
Residents should also be proactive in clearing abandoned lots near their own properties in an effort to curb loitering, Richards explained.
Clean Up Overgrown Lots
“There are areas that are overgrown where cars have been dumped that really just encourage loitering,” she said. “I think as a community we could be more assertive. If you see people hanging out on an empty lot, work with the local officials to encourage the clean up of that lot to reduce the potential for crime and criminal activity to occur.”
Locking up one’s vehicles and home upon leaving are other ways to prevent crime, according to Richards.
“Sometimes we’re very careless and we get out of our cars and leave the keys in the ignition, or we don’t secure our doors before going to bed or leaving for any period of time,” she said. “While we may think that nothing will happen, if someone sees an opportunity, chances are they’ll take advantage of it.”
Get to Know Neighbors
Informing neighbors when leaving for an extended period of time is another good crime prevention measure, explained Richards.
“People will notice if there is no activity in the home, so secure all doors and windows,” she said. “Ask a friend to check on your home, and let your neighbors know of your plans. Chances are, your neighbors will be the first to notice any unusual activity or people around your property.”
Perhaps one of the best crime prevention methods is forming a neighborhood watch, which several neighborhoods across St. John have done.
“The police department is available to help neighborhoods and communities set up neighborhood watch programs, which are essentially one of the most effective crime prevention programs that residents can utilize,” she said. “You can become the eyes and ears in your community. Residents can contact the police department, and we’ll send an officer to work with them on getting a program established.”
VIPD Needs Public’s Help
As for the VIPD’s poor 2006 arrest record, the department appeals to the public to help ensure that more crimes are solved, explained Richards.
“We make so many appeals to the public for anyone with information to contact the police department, and a lot of time we know the community knows who is doing what and they’re not reporting it,” she said. “Maybe they’re concerned about confidentiality or repercussions from people that they report. I really wouldn’t want to speculate.”
The VIPD could not provide official crime and arrest statistics for St. John, as figures are only kept for the St. Thomas-St. John District as a whole.
To set up a neighborhood watch program, contact Leander Jurgen Command at 693-8880 or the Coral Bay substation at 774-1111.