V.I. Police Department Commissioner-designee Trevor Velinor said the territory is in a state of emergency when it comes to violent crime, and only a continuous partnership between the agency and the community can combat it.
“When I left the territory in 2000, there were 24 homicides in the territory. It’s now 20 years later and that’s the number we have for just the past six months. We cannot be tolerant of this kind of violent crime, of the lack of civility. We have been identified as America’s paradise, but paradise needs to be about harmony, and these violent crimes are something we have to solve together,” said Velinor, who is on loan from the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau.
While only on island for the past two weeks, Velinor said he’s been able to speak to a large cross section of officers within the department about the trends and challenges that both VIPD and the territory are facing.
Being the new guy, everyone is “asking about my agenda,” Velinor said, and from his conversations, what’s clear is that trust has to be rebuilt first between the community and the department.
“But I’m not going to solve this problem,” he said. “We as a community have to solve this problem. We have to do better as a police department, and we as a community have to take responsibility in terms of ownership. We are a pack, and we must believe in professionalism, accountability and effective communication. We must believe that, collectively, we can have an impact on public safety.”
Firearms are coming into the territory and getting onto the streets the same way they do in any other city, he said.
“They are brought in through shipments or through the airports, they’re hidden, and they are not brought in, they are taken from homes that are burglarized and put out onto the streets,” he said. Getting the community to adopt a mentality that guns are bad and can kill is important, Velinor added.
“That’s why we need everyone involved,” he said. “We need the community to provide information about who has the firearms and how we can get them.”
Velinor also called for the community to identify talented individuals who could make effective police officers and shore up some longtime manpower shortages.
“We need the best,” he said. “We have spots and recruitment classes that we want to fill. The challenges are many, but the solutions are there. Everyone has to play a role.”
Velinor, who grew up in the Harborview Apartments on St. Croix, began his law enforcement career as a special agent in the ATF Orlando Field Office in 1990 before volunteering for a transfer to the territory, where he served as a special agent for four years.
Also during his career, Velinor served as the assistant special agent in charge of the Tampa Field Division and was a first responder to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. He was also a program manager at the bureau’s Legislative Affairs Division and the Intergovernmental Affairs Division, and the resident agent in charge of the ATF Colorado Springs Field Office.