After years of a chronically underfunded police force, Police Commissioner Mark Collins is again requesting more money to hire senior officials and house specialised divisions, he said late last year during the closed-door deliberations of the Standing Finance Committee.
The requests come as district representatives complained about an inadequate police presence on sister islands and at police stations across the territory, and as criminal probes have reduced the number of active-duty officers.
Of the $9,531,100 budget for this year, 81 percent is allotted for the salaries of police officers and staff, Mr. Collins said, according to a report on the SFC deliberations released last week.
This “leaves a small amount of the overall budget to operate on a daily basis for purchasing things such as fuel, boats, vehicles, equipment and uniforms,” the report paraphrased him as saying.
For 2022, only $125,000 was allocated to purchase new vehicles, according to the commissioner.
The force did receive funding for 14 new recruits and five auxiliary officers to the marine unit, but funding requests for the assistant commissioner are still outstanding and an officer is currently acting in that role, Mr. Collins reportedly said.
There are currently 364 people on the force, 299 of whom are police officers and 65 of whom are staff, according to the commissioner.
But he added that the number of police officers is expected to drop from 299 to 256 as the force expects there to be 43 vacancies, according to the report.
The vacancies are further compounded by the number of officers who are interdicted, being investigated, or on forced leave.
According to the report, there are currently 10 interdicted officers and one on compulsory leave as seven live investigations continue.
However, Mr. Collins also said there were 26 officers hired last year, according to the report.
Of the new officers, 13 are new recruits, three are transferees, four are auxiliaries, and six are contracted specialists from the United Kingdom, Mr. Collins said.
Sister island concerns
Following Mr. Collins’ statements before the SFC, Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles recounted a visit to Virgin Gorda that she said underscored the policing issues the sister islands face.
After disembarking the ferry in Spanish Town one day, Ms. Flax-Charles tried to call the island’s police station to control the large crowd at the dock, but she was told that all the officers were on other calls, an answer she frequently receives from that station, according to the report.
“The constant cry is ‘We are short-staffed,’” Ms. Flax-Charles reportedly said.
While Mr. Collins acknowledged her concerns about “road traffic,” according to the report, he said that he must put resources in places where crime is occurring, and crime levels are very low on the three main sister islands.
The commissioner added that “there should be an establishment” of 24 officers on Virgin Gorda, though he is trying to increase resources on the island and plans to fully staff Jost Van Dyke and Anegada once the VG station is at full complement.
He didn’t say how many officers are currently stationed on Virgin Gorda.
JVD tourism season
Ms. Flax-Charles’ concerns were echoed by District Two representative Mitch Turnbull, who asked if the police presence on Jost Van Dyke could be beefed up during the tourist season. Mr. Turnbull said he receives complaints about large numbers of day-trippers and rising crime from November to February.
Mr. Collins replied that he is grateful for five new auxiliary marine officers, who apparently will help patrol the sister island, and added that he is planning to send launches to JVD and Virgin Gorda with trained staff to “provide additional visibility to tourists and assurance to the residence on the islands and the wider community,” the report states.
Mr. Collins also said there are two constables and one sergeant stationed on JVD, and two constables stationed on Anegada.
Cane Garden Bay
Mr. Turnbull also alleged that the Cane Garden Bay Police Station is closed more often than open and has been nicknamed the “Cane Garden Bay Hotel” by residents who see people sleeping upstairs, according to the report.
He then asked Mr. Collins how he plans to address the station’s longstanding issues, which he has discussed with two previous police commissioners.
According to the report, Mr. Collins said that the West End Police Station covers Cane Garden Bay, and he cannot afford to station two to three officers in Cane because that would mean reducing the numbers at the Road Town and East End stations where the officers are more badly needed.
However, Mr. Collins is “hoping that with the new recruits, he would be able to get some resources,” according to the report.
The commissioner also said more money needs to be allotted to house some specialised officers.
While Mr. Collins said that he received funding to rent offices for the financial crime team, he did not receive any money for refurbishing the office space, and “they are currently in the final stages of negotiating between two properties, which they anticipate would cost up to $95,000 depending on location,” Mr. Collins reportedly said, adding, “That figure is the absolute maximum, and we would like it to be included in the budget.”
The commissioner also requested $46,725 to pay for contracts with H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, according to the report.