There was a 14% increase in homicides in 2020 compared to 2019, and a 24% increase in domestic violence calls for service, V.I. Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor testified Wednesday to the Legislature’s Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety.
Of the 49 homicides police investigated in 2020, there have been 21 arrests, Velinor said. Of those 49 deaths, 27 were on St. Croix, 20 on St. Thomas, and two on St. John. During the same period in 2019, there were 43 homicides and a total of 18 arrests, with 22 murders on St. Croix, 21 on St. Thomas, and none on St. John. In 2020, approximately 63% of the homicide victims had been between 18 and 29 years old. The weapon of choice in almost all homicides was firearms.
Velinor’s testimony included a breakdown of recent crime statistics that illustrate the myriad challenges officers are facing, particularly for a department in a small community spread out over three geographically isolated islands with a variety of air and seaports.
“In collaboration with the Virgin Islands Port Authority Police, VIPD has opened its Firearms Substations at the Henry E. Rohlsen and the Cyril E. King Airports. Passengers entering our Territory must immediately declare their firearms at the respective substation,” Velinor said. “VIPD is developing a Memorandum of Agreement with the Virgin Islands Port Authority and our airline partners to combat the flow of illegal firearms into the territory.”
The department recorded 301 arrests for the most serious crimes for the 2020 calendar year, compared to 307 for 2019. The 301 arrests included 91 robberies, compared to 48 robberies in 2019.
There were 799 domestic violence calls in 2020 (536 in the St. Thomas-St. John district and 263 on St. Croix). That’s a 24% increase over 2019, which saw 643 domestic violence calls (362 on St. Thomas and St. John, and 281 on St. Croix).
The number of domestic violence arrests decreased by 11% from 198 in 2019 (69 on St. Thomas and St. John and 129 on St. Croix) to 177 in 2020 (81 on St. Thomas and St. John, and 96 on St. Croix).
There were 80 shooting assaults in 2020 and 19 arrests (10 on St. Croix, eight on St. Thomas, and one on St. John) compared to 63 shooting assaults in 2019 and 23 arrests (13 on St. Croix, 10 on St. Thomas, and none on St. John).
Velinor said the department is working to increase its use of technology, and the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system — which was damaged in the 2017 hurricanes — went live again in June 2020.
“Officers are now able to receive real-time alerts on the location of gunfire. The current phase of the ShotSpotter coverage has been very helpful in dispatching officers, nonetheless, the territory needs an additional five square miles of coverage,” Velinor said. “The Department is diligently researching for additional funding sources to expand the ShotSpotter system.”
The department has approved a policy on the use of drones, and “the technology will improve the visibility of our officers, offer better vantage points, and strengthen our tactical resources,” Velinor said.
A long-awaited surveillance camera system is expected to be completed by July 2021, and “the vendor is currently in the territory and working on the installation. The first phase of the camera system will be comprised of 104 cameras to be installed throughout the territory. The camera surveillance system will provide the department with the ability to assist with crime prevention, traffic patterns/violations, and crime solving,” Velinor said.