VIPD Looks at Strengthening Local Gun Laws to Cut Down on Crimes

VIPD top brass said Tuesday the department is looking at strengthening local gun laws as the shipping of gun parts into the territory increases. (VIPD photo)

Out of 20 homicides territory-wide since January, arrests have been made in nine of the cases, according to the V.I. Police Department’s top brass, who said during a press conference Tuesday that more public input is needed to help close the remainder — particularly from witnesses on the scene, or close friends and family.

The press conference comes on the heels of two shootings this month — one in each district — that left two minors dead. On St. Croix, Police are still investigating but are close to solving the murder of 16-year-old Aman Lewis, while on St. Thomas, the case relating to the death of 16-year-old Leroy Cornelius, Jr. — who investigators said was armed and killed after brandishing his weapon — is currently with the Attorney General’s Office, according to the police district chiefs.

While pleading with the public to report any information on open cases to the department, VIPD said it was taking a stronger approach to weeding out the guns that are permeating the streets, including finding ways to put more teeth in local gun laws. St. Croix Police Chief Sean Santos Sr. said strong partnerships with federal agencies at open borders and airports are helping to get guns registered after they are declared in the states while also seeking to eliminate gun parts that are being shipped in.

Gun laws on the mainland, particularly in Florida, where a majority of gun kits and parts are coming from, are lax, officials added, and the reality is pieces are still getting through. That’s why VIPD said it’s working with local senators to construct legislation — which they said is intricate and must not impede on citizens’ constitutional rights — that could make even obtaining or selling the parts illegal, except for those handled by a federally licensed handler, according to Santos. Gun businesses, where parts are sent in, assembled in the territory, and sold, are resulting in more firearms on the streets that are easily accessible, he added.

Meanwhile, on St. Croix, about 39 guns have been confiscated since January, along with 46 on St. Thomas, officials added.

Traffic commanders also reported an increase in vehicular crashes in the past few months, including incidents on St. Croix that resulted in two fatalities. Officials said in the majority of cases that simple traffic laws were not being followed, with motorists driving too fast, running signs or lights, not wearing their seat belts or driving under the influence. To illustrate her point, St. Thomas Traffic Commander Rosalind Jarvis said her team issued more than 600 tickets in the past 10 days, mostly to drivers and passengers not wearing their seatbelts or failing to put their children in car seats.

According to the Source Homicide List, there have been 10 homicides each on St. Thomas and St. Croix, with zero on St. John, resulting in 20 total homicides for the territory for 2023.