May 20, 2009 — Seven highly experienced police officers recruited to the territory from districts all over the U.S. formally joined the ranks of the V.I. Police Department Tuesday in a ceremony in the ballroom of St. Croix's Government House.
Marching smartly between the rows of chairs, then standing at attention at the front of the ballroom, the group of crisply uniformed officers was led in the oath of office by Virgin Islands Supreme Court Justice Maria M. Cabret, after which Police Commissioner James McCall presented each with their badge.
"Remember, you are here to serve and protect the people, they are not here to serve you," McCall said in his closing Gov. John deJongh Jr. congratulated and welcomed the new officers too.
Coming from as far away as Hawaii and as close to home as Charlotte Amalie, they were recruited through Police Commissioner James McCall's Experienced Law Enforcement Officers (ELEO) via ads in police magazines, online police job bulletin boards and other outlets.
The ELEOs have a range of experience from 3 to 27 years in law enforcement. Several have roots in the Caribbean. Officer Ralston Wright, for instance, is from Jamaica, was raised in New York and is a veteran of the New York and Atlanta police departments.
One officer's name will be familiar to many on St. Croix: Gregory Bennerson, son of the late Police Lt. Gregory Bennerson, has come back to St. Croix after nearly an entire police career in the states.
"Gregory here is a fourth generation police officer," McCall noted during the ceremony. "I'm happy to be back in the Virgin Islands and on St. Croix," Bennerson said after the ceremony. "I love St. Croix. It's where I was born, I know the folks, I feel comfortable here. I have family here who are a great support."
For a number of years, Bennerson was an officer with the Kendelton, Texas, police department near Houston. For the last eight years, until six months ago, Bennerson served as a sheriff's deputy in Richmond, Va.
Asked if his father would have been proud to know his son had come to work in the Virgin Islands Police Department, Bennerson said he would have been supportive regardless.
"My dad, he was the type who, whatever decisions you make for your life, he would support you in it," he said. "But I think he would be proud."
Two of the officers hail from St. Thomas. One, Michael Walowy had been coming to the Virgin Islands on vacation for the past half-decade and already had a house on the island. Walowy, a native of New Jersey, had retired from police work and was contemplating a long life as a retiree on St. Croix, when he saw a police officer having lunch with his family on the beach and had an epiphany.
"I'm not ready to give into retirement just yet," Walowy said. "I still feel young and want to continue on a while longer."
Rhoderick Rojas comes to the Virgin Islands by way of Hawaii, where he served on the Pearl Harbor police department.
"I want to have new experiences, see new things," Rojas said. "It's an opportunity for advancement, to make new friends and live in a new environment. If you don't take risks, you won't have new experiences."
The officers passed pre-screening evaluations before coming here. They also had to pass a physical exam and a polygraph test. Although all are experienced officers, they then had 270 hours of instruction at the V.I. Police Department Training Academy, with cultural diversity training, classes on defensive driving, ethics, preventing sexual harassment, policies on the use of force, Virgin Islands law, constitutional law, handling domestic violence, and report writing, among other subjects.
Along with the seven ELEO recruits, St. Thomas police veteran Dwayne M. DeGraff was sworn in as Deputy Police Chief for St. Thomas and Water Island, a post DeGraff has held since February; and Christopher M. Howell as deputy St. Croix Police Chief.
Here is the complete list of officers sworn in Tuesday:
— Deputy Police Chief for St. Thomas and Water Island Dwayne M. DeGraff;
— St. Croix Deputy Police Chief Christopher M. Howell;
— Police Officer Gregory Bennerson;
— Police Officer Elsworth Jones;
— Police Officer Julian Marshall;
— Police Officer Rhoderick Rojas;
— Police Officer Cherese Thomas;
— Police Officer Michael Walowy;
— and Police Officer Ralston Wright.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of new ELEO officers. The correct number is seven.
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