During recent budget hearings before the Finance Committee of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, police and fire officials alerted the Virgin Islands Senate that their agencies, chronically understaffed already over the last few years, may be in even worse shape in the coming months and years.
According to the officials, an unprecedented number of Police Department and VI Fire Services employees will soon be eligible to retire or are retiring already. This is resulting in losses that could well decimate the departments’ number of employees. Nearly 150 officers are eligible to retire in the next two years, raising serious concerns with the Police Commissioner as to the remaining force’s ability to maintain order and safety throughout the Territory.
Calling all recruits
This is just the latest assessment of an ongoing issue, raised last year in the Senate’s budget hearings by the Police Commissioner. In 2013, the Department was already concerned about the rising retirement eligibility of its officers, citing a loss of more than 100 employees since 2007. At the time, the Police Commissioner Rodney F. Querrard detailed ongoing recruitment efforts, which have proven of great help but still have not provided the necessary re-staffing necessary.
The problem, as detailed in the most recent budget hearing, is mainly that the new recruits are primarily coming through in the area of personnel staff, leaving a gaping hole in supervisory personnel. To address this particular shortage, the Police Department is working to implement step raises for the supervisory staff it so desperately needs, measures that were approved just a few years ago in the 2010 Law Enforcement Supervisors Union contract.
Overlap in services
The increasing retirement eligibility, combined with what appear to be falling rates of enrollment in the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Academy, is not the only issue detracting from the forces’ numbers. Shortages in personnel may also be due to an overlap between the USVI Fire Services and the Virgin Islands National Guard Reserves. Although the St. Croix district could lose just one fire personnel member this year to service in the VING Reserves, the St. Thomas/St. John District stands to lose 17 officers.
Four of the firefighters have already received confirmation of their deployment later this year, necessitating overtime costs on behalf of the VI Fire Services to meet minimum staffing levels. Fortunately, despite the budgeting difficulties that have come about, the Police Department reported that crime rates have decreased.
BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected government relations law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.