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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 7, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesPolice Converge on Senate to Protest 'Peace Officer' Bill

Police Converge on Senate to Protest 'Peace Officer' Bill

Toward the end of a long day of hearings Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations and Budget was listening to testimony from the Virgin Islands Public Television System when approximately 60 police officers, some in uniform, entered Senate chambers and took seats in the audience.
Advised that the officers were there to speak to Senate members, Sen. Carlton “Ital” Dowe, interrupted the budget proceedings to allow two of the officers to state their business with the senators.
Lt. Joseph Gumbs, representing the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union, and Officer Donald Liburd, representing the Police Benevolent Association, took the floor, telling senators they were there in response to reports that a bill being proposed in the Senate would give peace officer status to federal agents. Peace officer status is the common terminology used when federal agents are granted the right to enforce local laws.
“This senator has not seen any legislation to make peace officers of federal agents," Dowe told the officers. "I have seen nothing that even speaks of anything to do with police.”
He went on to explain that they were conducting budget hearings and not addressing bills.
The two officers, speaking on behalf of those in the audience, said they did not want to disrupt the budget hearing but wanted to be heard by the senators immediately following the conclusion of the hearing.
Dowe agreed to listen to their concerns and when the hearing ended at 10 p.m., Dowe, along with Sens. Louis P.Hill, Wayne A.G. James, Terrence “Positive” Nelson, and Patrick Simeon Sprauve, spent another hour and a half listening to the officers and addressing their concerns.
Sprauve informed those present that “language was sent to legal counsel regarding the police officers, addressing the fact that they need help” but explained that there was no bill written.
When asked by Nelson what their major concerns were, Capt. Augustin Brin, commander of the Juvenile Bureau, stood up and addressed the senators, saying, “There is a history of abuse. Whenever a federal officer gets in any kind of confrontation, it is covered up. They have no respect for local laws or any local entity. I agree we need all the help we can get, but we need to work together. The situation has been deteriorating over the years.”
Hill addressed the officers, telling them, “There is no bill. If and when there is a bill, everyone will have the opportunity to come and testify.”
When asked his position on such a bill, Hill said, “This territory has seen a major increase in violent crime. I want to see a reduction in that, and if there is a solution that will help bring about a reduction in that crime, then I will support it.”
Officers agreed, but said federal officers did not show any respect of local laws and were unwilling to work with local officers. The common sentiment among the officers present was that the federal agencies are the ones who are supposed to be protecting our borders, keeping out guns and drugs, but have not been doing their job.
“Give us the resources," Liburd told senators. "We need to do something to entice people to join our police force.”
Officers clamored to be heard, with many citing instances of federal officers blatantly disregarding local law with the support of the former police commissioner, James McCall. Senators pointed out that the issues they were discussing were not the cause of federal agents but of the local police department administration.
Liburd continued by saying, “You want to know why we don’t have a lot of police officers enforcing laws? Officers are afraid to do their jobs for fear of being sent home for infractions.”
Marjorie Wheatley, president of the Retired Police Officers Association, said, “All law enforcement agencies need to step up. Federal agencies need to get together with local agencies and work together. If we want to get our community back, we have to work together.”
The fear the Virgin Islands officers have, expressed by Liburd and Gumbs, is that federal officers, if granted peace officer status, will not have to inform local police regarding any investigations or arrests that they make, further enhancing the separateness of the federal and local agencies.
“These are our children that are dying," Hill said. "These are our families that are dying. It does not serve our community’s purpose to fight with federal officers.”
Police officers left the Legislature Building having thanked the senators for their attention.

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