Armed Police Force Debated

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Senior Member of the House of Assembly and seasoned Third District Representative Hon. Julian Fraser still strongly believes that the officers of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) should be armed.

Despite all of the explanations over the years, the legislator stated that his position has not changed on the subject. While debating the Police Act in the House of Assembly on 10 July Hon. Fraser made the case for more guns within the Force by stating that the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force is the Territory’s only form of military defense: “We have no army, they are our army. These are the people that we depend upon for our security…People complain and bawl every time they hear me say arm the police officers and give them guns.”

He criticised the current tool of defense the officers have stating, “They give you a lil stick and they gonna call you 3:00 in the morning when they hear a noise outside or gunshot. They gave you a lil stick and they gonna call you; and when you don’t come – complains.”

The Opposition Member also suggests that the officers not being armed places the public at a disadvantage, “You drive up and down the street all night and you don’t see a police officer and you complain but you don’t give him any vehicle to drive. Our duty is to make sure that the police officer is well equipped.”

This position of arming the entire police force has been held by Hon. Fraser for decades. However, Police Commissioner Michael Matthews does not agree. In 2018 despite the calls from both members of the community and Hon. Fraser the Commissioner publicly stated that he will not arm the entire Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.

The Commissioner during a radio interview on 16 October 2018 said that he has heard the calls but do not agree that every officer should carry a gun. “Thank goodness it is the Commissioner’s decision to do it and not the politician’s decision to do it,” he declared.

According to Commissioner Matthews arming all of the officers of the RVIPF might not be a good thing: “Firearms should always be the last resort when it comes to policing and the officers that I authorise to carry firearm in this territory go through an intensive amount of training and they have to qualify. Not every officer qualifies. Frankly not every officer can shoot straight to put it bluntly. You don’t put a lethal weapon in the hands of somebody that can’t shoot.”

Matthews said that the present approach allows for situations to be weighed and that most matters are dealt with satisfactorily without an armed response. “More fundamentally firearm is there to combat the ultimate threat [for example]if a criminal has a firearm you’ve got to equal that threat.”

The Commissioner said that he would not support officers using guns for minor matters and incidents: “The minute you start arming the police as some sort of response to let’s say disrespect or a bit of noise, a bit of chatter on the street. What you are trying to do, you are trying to use extreme force against the population that is never appropriate and I would never do that.”

“Over the term I am Commissioner, I would continue to arm what I consider to be the appropriate amount of officers to respond to the threat that we understand in the Territory at the moment, but over the time that I am Commissioner there is absolutely no intention of arming the entire force,” Matthews added.

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