Mar. 18, 2004 Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt, who has been trying to obtain peace-officer status for investigators in his office, received a show of support Thursday in a letter written by Police Commissioner Elton Lewis to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
In the letter, Lewis says he would "welcome any entity with half the level of expertise, integrity and commitment that the Inspector General's office can bring to the V. I. law enforcement community." Lewis then strongly urged Turnbull to sign legislation granting peace-officer status to the IG investigators.
In late February, the Legislature unanimously passed a bill granting the requested status to IG investigators, but Turnbull, who is out of the territory, has yet to sign it. The bill has, in fact, not yet reached the governor's desk, according to legislative sources. The legislation traveled a long and bumpy road before reaching the full Senate. (See "Inspector General makes familiar requests".)
"It is imperative that this investigative unit be vested with the authority to execute warrants, swear to affidavits, and effect arrests in order to efficiently fulfill its statutory responsibilities," Lewis said.
The commissioner said it is his position that the investigators be given peace-officer status, since "their authority must be commensurate with the level of responsibility for effective execution of their duties."
He told the governor, "The position of Inspector General, criminal analysts, financial investigators, white-collar forensic examiners and investigative accountants are sworn positions everywhere else under the U.S. flag."
Lewis then urged Turnbull to "grant the employees the authority to do their jobs and cut out the middlemen (other agencies such as the Police Department and Department of Justice). It is important the IG's office not be tethered to suggest even the slightest possibility of external manipulation of their investigative process."
Lewis continued, "Furthermore, the sensitive nature of the financial and procedural investigations performed by this office demand confidentiality and impartiality." He added that peace-officer status would enable the investigators to access the FBI National Crime Information Center, where they would be permitted to query the national crime database without seeking the aid of the Police Department or other agencies — something van Beverhoudt has pointed out many times in legislative hearings.
The commissioner said, "The Inspector General's office is well respected in all circles of this community and is clearly recognized by federal authorities as being above board." He told the governor that he has worked closely with the IG's office for years conducting joint investigations. "Consequently," he said, "I can attest to the integrity and standards of this office."
In closing, Lewis told the governor, "I passionately urge you to support this important legislation."
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