Police Commissioner Speaks Out About A Homeless Force

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“We have waited long enough we need a decision, we need to get some buildings actually up and operational again,” an obviously bothered Commissioner of Police announced in an interview on 16 October.

Commissioner Michael Matthews during a ZBVI interview on Tuesday said that he is fed up seeing and dealing with the poor working conditions within the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and he said that morale of the officers is being affected.

Matthews said that it is not as if the officers are getting ready to quit, but he stressed that it is not acceptable that after a year the men and women tasked with protecting and maintaining law and order are made to work in deplorable conditions: “The public surely cannot be filled with confidence all the time they see the police station smashed in Jost Van Dyke or the police barracks in Virgin Gorda wrecked,” he announced.

Mold and Water

In disclosing some of the situations affecting the officers the Commissioner noted that mold was one of the issues, but he pointed out that this problem is being rectified: “We just had to expend $84,000 to remove mold from Road Town Police Station. Mold I know is a problem in a lot of the buildings here in the Territory, but we were starting to see a steady increase in sickness as a result of people working in those conditions, that environment and I suspect the hurricanes and all the rain that came has exasperated that problem.”

Last weekend the Territory was subjected to heavy rainfall and this caused issues for the RVIPF officers, and he said the downpour inflamed an already stressful situation. “Here ia the frustration for me, we have just had a very wet weekend. My officers were sending me video footage and photos from the front desk of Road Town Police Station where water is pouring through onto the officers below. Now, we talk about health and safety in the Territory, we talk about the welfare of our people to me there is a frustration growing that we are not taking that serious enough.”

In further lamenting his frustration the Commissioner said: “I need to be able to offer my staff safe effective working environments and I can’t do that at the moment. I can’t stand up and say that I can meet the obligations of health and safety at the moment and I think that’s wrong.”

In noting the morale of the officers Mr. Matthews said, “Yes they are getting fed up. They are getting fed up with the conditions they are working in. I spent my weekend having to deal with the fact that officers are standing in six inches of water in our Marine Base or they are trying to serve the public in the front part of the police station with buckets on the counter and water coming through the ceiling.  Not only is that a health risk with electrical products but this is long after the hurricane hit.”

“I feel for my officers and staff and I sympathize with the positions that they are in. I want them to have high levels of morale. I want them to be motivated to go out there and do a good job. That’s not going to happen if they feel that nobody is listening to their cry and nobody is particularly interested in the police service so I will make as much noise as I can,” he stated.

Matthews said that he understands that the situation of the Force will be improved once the Recovery and Development Agency Plan that is currently before the House of Assembly has been passed. In this stead he made a call on both sides of the House to approve the plan.

“My understanding is that we are awaiting the determination of the recovery plan, and until that decision is made in the House of Assembly nothing seems to be moving forward. There’s no traction, and I guess I am appealing to all of the politicians now – whatever side you’re sitting on in the House of Assembly, I’m appealing to come together for the sake of this Territory and get some traction going behind this plan because we desperately need it,” he said.

Barracks Gone Officers Displaced

Since the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria the officers based at the police stations on the sister islands have been displaced. In drawing attention to the plight of these officers working on the sister islands the Commissioner announced that the Virgin Gorda situation is especially concerning.

Mr. Matthews explained that it has been quite a hassle maintaining police visibility on the Territory’s second most populated island – Virgin Gorda. The Commissioner of Police announced that the barracks on that sister island are still in the shamble hurricanes Irma and Maria left them and officers who live on Tortola must travel back and forth to maintain a presence.

“We recently tried to increase the number of officers on Virgin Gorda…except we got nowhere to house the officers if they for example live on Tortola; so we are sending the officers across using the public ferry service, except the ferries don’t run particularly late at the moment so I am having difficulties,” Matthews explained.

He said it is not convenient to insist that the officers stay on Virgin Gorda because they would have no place to sleep: “The barracks virtually don’t exist there and every time we have tried to find a property to rent either the prices have been exceptionally high in terms of rentals or there is just not suitable premises for officers to sort of stay in.” Probably it is time for government to stop greedy landlords landladies by imposing low rent limits for two years.

It was noted that the officers stationed in Jost Van Dyke are faring little better than their colleagues stationed on Virgin Gorda. According to the Commissioner: “My officers on Jost Van Dyke are operating most of the time just out of a police vehicle. We are fortunate that we have got a Customs and Immigration team over there who got a roof over their heads so we are able to sort of access occasionally a telephone or something like that.”

The Commissioner said that the interview was basically revealing some serious problems, but he said he felt compelled to speak out: “This is exposing weaknesses in our security capabilities, but I want to do something about that but it starts with the basics of a roof over the head of some of the staff… This is not me sounding off and criticizing I am just saying these are facts that police are working in conditions that are far from acceptable… At times I do feel like I am a voice in the wilderness and each day goes by and I don’t see any difference.”

The officers at the Marine Base are also in a state that is not the best. In noting their circumstances the Commissioner said: “Our marine unit are still struggling to get boats from the water, we are still struggling to maintain a vehicle fleet, we are still struggling to work from buildings that are severely damaged but nonetheless…”

Even the Commissioner is currently working in a location that is less than ideal, as since last year the Police Headquarters have been based upstairs of the Riteway Supermarket. In referencing that situation Matthews said: “It is not a secret that we are located about Riteway supermarket Pasea as a temporary police Headquarters and I am very grateful to Riteway and the management there for putting up with us. We have been there since October 2017. We are told the we will be moving back into the old Police Headquarters back opposite the ferry port…but the latest time I am being told is potentially May next year.”

“The location upstairs a supermarket although we are grateful is not an appropriate location for police headquarters. It is not enabling us to function properly and I am hopeful and I know the Deputy Governor’s office in particular is working very hard looking for alternative locations for us. I am hopeful that we will be moving to a more sustainable location in the future whether that’s perhaps the old police headquarters or somewhere different,” he added.

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