DeJongh signs bill granting peace officer status to federal agents
Published: October 9, 2012
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. THOMAS - Gov. John deJongh Jr. on Friday signed into law a hotly contested bill that allows federal law enforcement officers to gain status as local police officers.
The bill "will enable the Virgin Islands Police Department to seek and solidify the assistance of federal law enforcement authorities in curtailing the current levels of violent crime as well as in continuing to combat the smuggling of illegal weapons into the Territory," deJongh wrote Friday in his transmittal letter to Senate President Ronald Russell.
The push to pass such a measure, which became known as the "peace officer bill," dates back to at least July 2009, when V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer told The Daily News that it would be necessary for the V.I. Code to clearly establish when federal agents can enforce local laws before U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents would return to the territory.
The agency left the Virgin Islands in November 2008, shortly after ATF agent William Clark fatally shot Marcus Sukow during a confrontation in September 2008 in the Mahogany Run condo complex. Clark initially faced criminal charges, which a judge later dismissed, and a federal District Court jury during a civil trial last month found Clark did not use excessive force in shooting Sukow.
Days after that verdict, a deeply divided Senate passed the latest version of the peace officer bill, which had failed to reach the Senate floor on at least five previous occasions. The five senators who continued to oppose the bill - Usie Richards, Janette Millin Young, Shawn-Michael Malone, Alicia Hansen and Terrence Nelson - raised concerns about what they described as the federal government's shortcomings when it comes to tracking shipments of guns and drugs into the territory.
Richards raised a flurry of procedural roadblocks on the Senate floor, but the nine senators supporting the bill prevailed.
The bill authorizes the V.I. Police commissioner to grant commissions as V.I. Police Officers to officers from the following federal agencies: FBI; Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Marshals Service; and U.S. Coast Guard.
The specifics of how these commissions can be obtained and revoked, as well as "the respective rights and responsibilities" of both the V.I. Police Department and each federal agency, are to be spelled out in written agreements between the V.I. Attorney General, the V.I. Police Commissioner and the director of each federal agency, according to the law.
Frazer said Monday his office plans to meet with the U.S. Attorney's Office by the end of the month to decide on a format to use for the agreements. Once the format is settled, Frazer and Police Commissioner Henry White Jr. will meet with the individual federal agencies to hammer out details, according to Frazer.
"We are going forward with it," Frazer said.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.