VIPD’s St. John Citizens Group Meets Behind Closed Doors

While St. John struggles with rising crime and complaints about police performance, a V.I. Police Department-selected “citizens” group has been meeting with police officials behind closed doors since 2004 to discuss law enforcement issues.

The general public is not invited to attend the meetings of the St. John Citizens Integration Team (CIT) which have taken place about once a month over the past two years, according to VIPD officials and residents involved.

Neither VIPD officials nor leaders of the CIT would disclose the identities of the members of the group which purportedly has 10 to 12 members and is chaired by Dr. Joseph DeJames.

St. John Tradewinds was denied access to the most recent CIT meeting at the VIPD Leander Jurgen Command on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 22, and the newspaper has not been informed of any previous meetings of the group.

The VIPD organized CITs on each island in 2004, according to Rick LeBurkien of the office of VIPD Commissioner Elton Lewis.

CITs Grew From Focus Groups
“We instituted focus groups on all three islands in 2004,” said LeBurkien. “The groups, which were comprised of citizens from all different areas of the community, were formed to tell us their views about the police department. We did this internally as well.”

“From the focus groups, we developed these CITs on each island, and each one has a chair and a co-chair,” he added. The focus groups were formed from a directive from the commissioner, LeBurkien continued.

“We wanted leaders of the community and people from all different occupations,” he said. “A lot of people just heard about it and joined. Other people volunteered.”

St. John CIT chair is Dr. Joseph DeJames, and the co-chair is Judy Whitley. VIPD officials, including the St. John deputy chief, are also present at each meeting.

No Change Overnight
“This is not a vehicle that is going to change anything overnight,” said DeJames. “But it brings the community’s concerns together to be expressed to the police department, and the Police department can express its concerns to the community.”

CIT members listen to others in the community and bring their concerns to the attention of the VIPD brass, DeJames added.

“Most of the people on the CIT have contact with a lot of the community,” he said. “It’s like we are the sounding boards for the community. Instead of basically one group complaining about the other group, we set small initiatives each month.”

At the most recent meeting, the CIT set initiatives for VIPD customer service training and setting up a separate St. John 911, according to DeJames.

Customer Service Improvements
“It has been clearly expressed from the public and the police force itself, that customer service needs to be addressed,” said DeJames. “Simply improving how the police and public interact would be an improvement.”

A number of incidents over the years have highlighted the need for St. John to have its own 911 system instead of being routed through St. Thomas—as is the case now. Most recently, on Feb. 21, an elderly woman fainted at the V.I. Legislature building in Cruz Bay and calls to 911 resulted in an EMS response more than a half hour later.

Separate 911 System
“A thing as simple as having our own 911 would vastly improve things on St. John,” DeJames said.

Although the 911 routing issue has been discussed on St. John for some time, LeBurkien said the visiting Bahamian police force officials actually planted the idea.

“The 911 issue came from the Bahamian police department,” said LeBurkien. “They have about 28 inhabited islands. We started talking about 911, and they said that in each one of their jurisdictions you can call 911 and they know where the problem is—they know exactly where the emergency is.”

Bonny Corbeil, who lives in the Calabash Boom area —which was the site of five burglaries in the beginning of February—is also a member of CIT. Corbeil herself reported a Feb. 9 burglary in the neighborhood.

“What I am trying to do is put all of the facts out there and try to figure out how to make the system work for everyone involved,” said Corbeil. “The community and the police are the people who need to work together. We all have the same goal—to make the community safer.”

Corbeil said she is optimistic the CIT will make a difference on St. John.

“It is an empowered group,” she said. “We are taking a look at what is going on and ways that we can repair it. I feel really optimistic that we will make a change.”

Need for Neighborhood Watch Group
In the wake of five burglaries which occurred within five days of each other, Corbeil said she is coordinating a neighborhood watch program. in Calabash Boom.