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Cruz Bay
Wednesday, June 12, 2024


Crime fighting in the territory got a much needed boost Thursday as the Senate Government Operations Committee passed three measures unanimously. It held one other until Monday pending an amendment.
A bill to make it a felony to furnish false information to peace officers during a felony investigation got hearty endorsement from Police Commissioner Franz Christian. The bill was sponsored by committee chair Gregory Bennerson, a former police officer.
"I strongly support the bill," Christian told the senators, adding that it would "put sharper teeth" in police procedure, and "tighten up the process."
He testified that "many times, for instance, a victim in a drive-by shooting wilfully gives false information to deal with the matter on his own." The victim refuses to identify his attacker, wanting to wreak vengeance, himself, Christian said, but with the threat of a felony charge, the victim would be more inclined to talk.
When Sen. Lorraine Berry asked about the police officers themselves giving false information, Christian said the law would apply to everybody, "including cops."
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole wondered if the rule would be a hindrance, citing the currently disputed federal "Miranda law" which requires police to "read their rights" to those being charged with a crime. He said he would like to hear Attorney General Iver Stridiron's view of the bill. Although invited to testify Thursday, Stridiron didn't appear.
Christian reiterated the law would encourage the public and all witnesses to give truthful testimony. The bill passed by a 6-0 vote.
Bennerson also proposed a bill to create a peace officer standards and training council with accreditation standards and criteria for law enforcement training.
"I want to see the Virgin Islands Police Department become fully accredited with standards and criteria set for law enforcement," Christian said. "If this is the avenue to take, let's take it." The bill would require certification of an officer by the council after one year of employment in order for that individual to continue in his or her job.
Christian said the measure faces financial restraints. It is "financially impossible" for the Police Department to perform the administrative function of the council at this time, he said, but he has hopes for the 2001 budget to provide the needed funds. The bill was held over in committee until Monday for an amendment.
The committee also passed legislation increasing the mandatory minimum prison term for armed robbery to seven years from three years, and granting peace officer status to Legislature security personnel.
Sen. Roosevelt David commented that the Senate sergeant-at-arms now doesn't have "a little piece of stick" to discourage anyone from harming others in the Senate, adding that "unfortunately, there is violence in the community."
Cole noted that senators, themselves, pose problems occasionally. He mentioned cases if lawmakers slapping and chasing one another around the Senate chambers, harking back to a time when then-Senate President Ruby Rouse repeatedly told then-Sen. Iver Stridiron to shut up. Stridiron, according to Cole, then told Rouse if she kept it up, he would go down to his car and get a tire iron, thus earning himself the sobriquet, "Tire Iron."
Christian and Sergeant-at-Arms Hugo Hodge testified on the need for the measure, which was passed unanimously.
Approving the bills were committee members Bennerson, Berry, Cole, David, David Jones and Allie-Allison Petrus. Committee member Adelbert "Bert" Bryan was absent. The bills approved go next to the Rules Committee. If approved there, they will then be sent to the full Senate for a vote.

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