Sept. 26, 2003 – Now that all the dust has settled, Police Commissioner Elton Lewis and Attorney General Iver Stridiron say they are in agreement on an off-duty police officer's status.
After an officer moonlighting as a security guard fired shots, wounding two men, outside the St. Thomas Kmart at Tutu Park Mall on Aug. 29, Stridiron said the man's identity should be released to the public because he was acting as a "civilian." Lewis strongly disagreed. (See "Lewis: Off-duty police still sworn to protect".)
On Friday, Lewis said: "I have never said we are not going to release the name of the officer. There is a procedural policy which needs to be followed. It is an internal matter. Once it has been completed and forwarded to the attorney general for his opinion, his name will be released." He added that "it would be unconscionable to release the name before the investigation is completed."
Stridiron sent an eight-page opinion to Lewis on Thursday outlining a police officer's role when in the employ of a private company. The opinion substantiates much of what Lewis had already said: Officers are sworn to uphold their duties as police both on and off duty.
In the meantime, labor leaders had called for Stridiron's ouster. His earlier comments angered police union officials in both districts and provoked repeated calls for his resignation or termination — with no response from the Turnbull administration. Stridiron said on Friday that the matter has become a "media circus."
Stridiron's opinion doesn't address that issue; it concentrates on the liability of a private employer hiring a police officer. It states: "When an off-duty police officer, without the commissioners's approval, accepts employment with a private employer, and takes action on behalf of that private employer, the government is not liable for injuries caused by that officer."
At the end of his opinion, Stridiron states that he had addressed "the issue of when and to what extent a police officer's identity or information about the officer may be disclosed" in a letter he had written in March to Karen Andrews, the administration's chief labor negotiator, regarding the territory's "Sunshine Act" and government policy on making information public. "These are simply things we consider," Stridiron said.
His concluded his opinion with two recommendations:
– Off-duty work rules must be strictly enforced. He warned that officers working privately without the commissioner's written permission will expose themselves to personal liability.
– Officers should wear their police uniforms while working for a private employer and carry the appropriate police-issued weapons.
"Everything in the A.G.'s opinion I read with great interest," Lewis said on Friday. "First of all, it supports what I have said all along; this isn't a novelty. I took the employment policy two steps further."
"For one thing," Lewis said, "no officer will be working on another job without my approval. I have taken another look at the off-duty employment policy, and I have prepared a new policy. I have recalled all the employment applications and set up an internal board that will review all applications and make final recommendations to me."
Under prior rules, he said, "the officer had an option to wear the uniform." But, he added, "the uniform is non-negotiable, for a number of the reasons the A.G. referred to in his opinion. It has already been part of my internal policy."
Stridiron said the police uniform has the effect of alerting the public "that the person, in addition to his secondary employment, is acting as a peace officer. This fact alone … may avert some problems, such as rowdy behavior, before they even begin, or before they escalate into a serious situation."
Lewis had said earlier that he was "not going to sit here and second guess the attorney general. He has a duty to adjudicate and make an opinion on any issue he desires." He said then that his relationship with the attorney general was good, "and I intend to keep it that way."
Stridiron said essentially the same thing on Friday: "The commissioner and I have a close working relationship; we are not in disagreement."
However, another public official took issue with Stridiron on Friday. Sen. Lorraine Berry, who chairs the Legislature's Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, was upset that the attorney general had not provided her a copy of the opinion he sent to Lewis.
Berry had written to Stridiron on Monday asking him to issue an opinion on the use of "deadly force" by police personnel. "My committee needs clarification on your policy on the use of deadly force and the escalation of violent threat levels among police officers and civilians," she wrote.
Making reference in her letter to the Kmart shooting incident and the "very public disagreement" between Stridiron and Lewis concerning the officer's status, she said that "the appearance of a 'whitewash' of excessive force incidents and your public stance on excessive force [need] to be revisited and re-examined in light of recent developments."
Turning to another justice matter that has made headlines recently, the indictment of Deputy Health Commissioner Lucien Moolenaar on federal charges of fraud and conversion of government funds, Berry also said she has a bill pending that addresses "the absence of any statute tied to the conversion of government property."
She asked Stridiron for his suggestions regarding provisions that "ought to be included" in the bill. (See "Indicted deputy health commissioner on the job".)
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