St. John Watch By VIPD Commissioner Elton Lewis

Looking Back—A Simpler More Respectful Time
In this week’s article, I thought it would be interesting to look back to the so-called “old days” of law enforcement, which I consider the true essence or beginning of Community Oriented Policing. Policing was very different from today: pay was less, there was hardly any equipment, and although there was horse patrol, patrol was mostly done on foot. The police were disciplined, mature, and most had a great work ethic and attitude.

Policing was also different because everyone in the community knew each other. We knew each other’s children and relatives, and we disciplined each other’s children and looked out for each other. We were God-fearing people who worshiped with our families every Sunday. We were compassionate, respected the property of others and cherished each other’s lives and friendships more. It seems that we’re all so busy today that we have lost that special essence of caring that was so integral to our framework.

Communities were organized with traditional values. Education of children was based on those values. Good behavior was apparent in almost every member of the community. Families lived according to traditional values and it was normal to watch out for each other. People did not resort so frequently to violence. Old people were considered as the teachers of the traditions. Honor and respect were given to police; and so, we had great prestige in the society. Young people acquired moral and traditional values; moral, spiritual, and traditional teaching was learned by young people. And the Virgin Islands Police were integral to that value system.

The Organic Act of 1936 divided the USVI in two municipalities, namely, the municipality of St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John, with its own separate and distinct legal entity and power. 1936 found an eager, young municipality caught up in a whirlwind of growth and just beginning to experience a growing population. Even though the departments were independent of each other with separate budgets and leadership, they shared common goals, common core values and objectives. There was a true sense of what is now called Neighborhood Watch and Project Safe Neighborhoods with 100 percent participation. Today the Virgin Islands Police Department would like to promote and facilitate building these two initiatives to the same passion and commitment experienced in the past. Back then, it was just part of every day life and catchy tag lines were not necessary to motivate people to join.

Among the duties of the police officers back then were: the issuing of special dance licenses, bounty payments for mongooses, permits for the purchasing of poisons, registering and licensing dogs, guarding at public dances and entertainments, and checking passengers from planes and vessels to enforce infectious disease ordinances.

I remember growing up on St. Croix where a patrolman only had to look at you, or tap his baton on the wall, and me and my buddies were all about “yes sir, no sir” and off and running for home. Police were a symbol of respect, and experienced it, in those days or Patrolman Edwards would tell your parents that you misbehaved. Life and policing seemed so much simpler, more respectful and service oriented. The Municipality Police Force was established by the Colonial Council for St. Croix. The director’s starting salary was $12,000, District $7,500; and a patrolman $3,000 per year.

Even though in the “old days” there were not machines and advanced technology, the Virgin Islands flourished. Work was considered as a value in the community. People were hard-workers. Mutual help was apparent in the territory, particularly through the family.

In short, traditional values played fundamental roles in the Virgin Islands. Today, technology and popular American culture powerfully influence our society and have created conflict with our traditional values. But they have also widened our vision and understanding of the world. Nowadays, used constructively, positively, and selectively, I hope that the traditional values and modern will cease to be antagonistic and actually become partners.

After decades of assault upon what made the Virgin Islands great, upon supposedly obsolete values, what have we reaped, what have we created, what do we have? What we have, in the opinion of many, is crime, drugs, illegitimacy, abortion, the abdication of duty, respect and responsibility to community, and the abandonment of traditional values. What we have, in my opinion, is opportunity. I believe the VIPD and the territory are primed for a higher quality of police service and a higher quality of life.

And after the virtual reduction of the traditional values I’ve mentioned, the rock upon which this territory was founded, I am saying it does take a village—that is, the collective, and thus, the territory—to raise a better Virgin Islands, a better VIPD. May the spirit and dedication to public service of generations past reflect in all the generations to come.