Not having had a chance to review the proposed 2013 budget, I’m in the dark as to whether the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force will be given the funds to support a significant increase in officers. I hope so, but in some quarters there’s a firm conviction that the police don’t need to increase their numbers; they simply need to do their jobs. While I can certainly understand that point of view, I nevertheless hold that the RVIPF can do with more officers.

I’m no math whiz, but let’s take a look at the numbers. As I understand it, right now we have a total of 210 officers. You might think that’s a lot, but let’s take a deeper look at the figures. (Please note that I haven’t consulted the police on these figures, so I’ll be using inexact estimates.)

All right, so we have 210 officers, but, at any given time, 30 or so may be on some form of leave – vacation leave, maternity leave, sick leave or study leave. That means the actual number of working officers is 180. Well, that’s quite enough, you say — after all, back in the day there were only two or three officers and crime was practically nonexistent. We need to remember, however, that also nonexistent were many of the communities and neighbourhoods that now dot our islands.

People now live in all kinds of nooks and crannies where no houses existed in the 1960s and even 1970s. Our population is now about three times what it was in those halcyon days, and anyway there wasn’t all that much to steal back then, was there? No jewellery shops, nobody walking around with thick gold chains, no houses with lots of lootable goods like televisions, laptops and so on.

But to get back to my number crunching. We’re now down to 180 officers, but wait: We have to take out another 10 or so who drive the premier and the judges (I’m not sure if the magistrates are driven by officers). Also, this set will include those who are on duty at any of the courts, giving evidence or performing guard duty.

So now we’re down to 170, but we’ve got to deduct another 10 or so: the senior officers who aren’t available for active policing. These would be the inspectors, chief inspectors, superintendents and so on. (There are probably more than 10 in this category, but I’ll go with that figure.)  

Well, 160 should still be more than sufficient, you say; after all, it’s a small territory. And you’d be right — if all of those officers were working at the same time. But they’re not, are they? For some strange reason, officers are actually given time off and are not on duty 24 hours a day. Shocking, I know. Instead, as I understand it, officers operate on eight-hour shifts.

So let’s assume that we need to divide 160 by three (three shifts of eight hours each), which leaves us with 53 officers available per shift. That’s 53 officers to cover the whole territory, which is divided by water.

Police stations

Now let’s take a look at the number of stations and divvy up our officers once again. Road Town will probably have the highest complement of officers, so let’s say 20 for Road Town; five each for East End, West End and Cane Garden Bay; 10 for Virgin Gorda; four for Jost Van Dyke and four for Anegada.

Twenty for Road Town doesn’t sound like a lot, and it becomes even less when we take out the five in the marine unit who are out on the sea. If Road Town only meant Road Town proper, it could just barely be handled by 15, but, of course, it also covers Duffs Bottom, Sea Cows Bay, Lower Estate, Baughers Bay, Harrigans, Purcell and so on.

Let’s say there’s a serious scooter accident at Baughers Bay and four officers respond. A domestic violence incident in Sea Cows Bay accounts for two other officers. Three have gone to take statements from witnesses for various cases. Two are out in patrol cars. That leaves three actually available at the station to deal with walk-ins or anything else that might arise. So who’s left to do the community policing, the walking around and getting to know people that the public has been demanding? How quickly can the available patrol car up in Harrigans respond to a report of a break-in on Main Street? Officers looking for witnesses to a robbery in Purcell are not available to stop the scooter racing on Waterfront Drive.

The situation becomes even clearer when you look at the other stations. If, for example, two officers from the East End station are dealing with a disturbance at the airport, this leaves three officers back at the station, leaving no one available for foot patrols, much less other community policing. (Foot patrols are just one component of community policing.)

This is a simplistic analysis — I don’t know what the actual figures are and I don’t know how many officers really are on duty at any given time or to what extent all the different units complicate the analysis. But my point is let’s give the police more officers. Let’s give them what they say they need. Or let’s do what the Road Town Anti-Crime Police Group recommended back in March and bring in an expert to review the day-to-day operations of the force to determine what’s working and what isn’t. Let’s do something, because crime is going up and the number of unsolved murders isn’t going down. Doing nothing shouldn’t be an option.