Nine federal law enforcement officers received commissions as Virgin Islands Peace Officers Monday after attending an orientation on V.I. history and culture at the Police Training Academy on St. Thomas, Attorney General Claude Earl Walker announced.
Commissions were awarded to three agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, three from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and three from Homeland Security Investigations. They were the first federal agents to receive the commissions under a law enacted five years ago.
“Today, we have created a much closer bond with our federal law enforcement partners by granting them commissions to serve as Virgin Islands Peace Officers,” Walker said. “This is a historic day in the territory because this is the first time that commissions have been granted since the Legislature passed the law making this possible. The Legislature enacted a law granting such powers to federal law enforcement officers, provided that they attend orientation on V.I. culture and law conducted by the Attorney General’s office.”
The commissioned agents have authorization to enforce local criminal laws, including the power to make arrests for violation of V.I. laws, along with their federal police powers, Walker said.
The training was planned by Walker in conjunction with acting U.S. Attorney Joycelyn Hewlett and VIPD Commissioner Delroy Richards. Walker, Hewlett and St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Jason Marsh were present at the orientation ceremony.
During the ceremony, Virgin Islands historian and cultural icon Glen “Kwabena” Davis highlighted significant aspects of Virgin Islands’ history and culture.
“We are a people who have made quite an impact on the world by virtue of the number of people who have passed through here,” Davis told the gathering, as he recited a chronology of events – which began circa 1200 up to the 1970s – that shaped the territory’s history and culture.
At the end of the orientation, Walker presented each federal officer with a commission and conveyed to them that Gov. Kenneth Mapp is very supportive of the initiative.
“It should not have taken so long for local police powers to be conferred upon you,” Walker said. “With these commissions, you now have full authority as Virgin Islands Peace Officers to go out and enforce Virgin Islands local laws. So, I encourage you to use this status to proactively fight crime in the territory.”
An act of the Virgin Islands Legislature enacted on Sept. 17, 2012, granted authority to the Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department to issue commissions as Virgin Islands Peace Officers to certain federal law enforcement officers of certain federal agencies.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the V.I. Attorney General’s Office and the VIPD entered into a written memorandum of understanding on the procedures to be followed on the issuance and revocation of commissions and the respective rights and responsibilities of the parties. A federal law enforcement officer who is granted a commission is recognized and authorized to act as a Virgin Islands Peace Officer to enforce local laws, including the power to make arrests for violation of Virgin Islands laws. Any federal law enforcement officer granted a commission may use any reasonable force which the officer reasonably believes to be necessary to defend himself or another person from bodily harm, while making a lawful arrest.
A similar exercise is also being planned for federal officers in the St. Croix district, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
“We are near completion of plans to conduct a similar orientation very shortly in the district of St. Croix so that our federal law enforcement partners in that district may also receive peace officer status,” Walker said.