The memorial service Monday morning for V.I. police officers slain in the line of duty hit Police Commissioner Delroy Richards personally. Speaking to the Source Monday evening at an event focusing on police department retirees, he said he was closely connected with six of the seven officers whose graves were visited in the morning as part of National Police Week observance.
One death that stuck in his mind was that of Patrick Sweeney after whom the headquarters where the retirement event was being held is named. Sweeney was killed in the early 70s when Richards and Sweeney were both young officers. Richards joined the police force in 1968.
The St. Croix high school, which was at that time located where the present Juanita Gardine school is now, was being visited regularly by trespassers, vandals and thieves. A team of six officers was assigned to the campus – two for each eight-hour shift. Richards had the midnight to 8 a.m. shift and Sweeney had the 4 p.m. to midnight shift.
On the night he died, Richards says that Sweeney was told by the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. officer, “Be careful, they are coming back.”
Sweeney had been on his shift only 15 minutes when trespassers were sighted. Sweeney and his partner gave chase. One of the trespassers turned and shot, hitting Sweeney in the chest. Richards, who was off at the time and driving in the Golden Rock area, heard the news of an officer being shot and rushed to the hospital. He said that in one of the twists that one finds often on an island — the head nurse who admitted Sweeney to the hospital where he was declared dead was his mother-in-law.
Police Week, which is being marked on St. Croix and St. Thomas this week, according to organizers, is not just about marking the deaths of officers, but also remembering the good times. Richards said, “We do everything we can to help the morale of the officers.”
Events began Monday on St. Croix with a motorcade of about 30 cars that went to the three cemeteries where slain officers were buried. On St. Thomas, officers gathered on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront to cast a wreath in the ocean in memory of slain comrades. On St. Croix, earlier Monday evening a roll call of all the officers that have passed away was performed at the Frederiksted waterfront.
National Police Week, according to Richards, originated in a proclamation by President John F. Kennedy. St. Croix officers started observing the week this year on Sunday with basketball and volleyball games. Various events will continue through the week, including a family night and an officer in the schools day. The week culminates with the Criminal Investigation Bureau hosting a pig roast at the Altona Lagoon Complex
At the Monday night event, Richards praised the committee that put the events together.
Lt. Naomi Joseph, who has been a member of the police force for 31 years and has been a key organizers for National Police Week for the last 10 years said, “It is a labor of love.” She was master of ceremonies of the “Reminiscing with Retirees” event. She introduced all the retirees who were in attendance, some of whom came forward to talk about their time on the force.