July’s bomb scare on St. Croix has sparked interest in resurrecting the territory’s long-defunct bomb squad, a goal that, according to V.I. Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr., is already in motion.
“We are right now setting up all the training we need to begin the new unit,” Richards said.
Training would involve sending two officers — one from each district — to an off-island certification course. Upon their return, they will identify what equipment they need locally and set up three-person units in each district.
Richards said he will be reaching out to the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency for funding, suggesting “they have the monies that will allow us to be trained.”
A date for the unit’s formation has yet to be determined, according to Richards.
The department’s bomb squad was already gone when Richards took over as commissioner in 2015, with Richards saying the unit had gradually fallen apart over the years as staff retired and funds dwindled.
The lack of a local bomb squad has meant a reliance on federal partners for bomb threats, particularly the FBI bomb unit based in San Juan.
This was made apparent on July 27, when police were notified of a possible explosive device near the Sunny Isle Shopping Center Annex on St. Croix and were unable to diffuse the situation on their own.
An FBI bomb unit from Puerto Rico flew over, examined the device and deemed it a fake. Further investigation revealed the device belonged to a nearby summer camp for students.
Sen. Alicia Hansen, during a recent meeting of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Public Safety and Justice, addressed the matter with leaders of VITEMA.
“I began to receive lots of calls from police officers who were concerned that there was a bomb around Sunny Isle and that they were not prepared to deal with bombs,” Hansen said. “They don’t have the equipment or supplies nor the expertise.”
Hansen said VITEMA is the agency responsible for coordinating efforts against terrorism and that its leaders must push for a local bomb squad.
She further questioned why the bomb squad was not replenished after members retired.
“Just because somebody left or somebody retired is no justification for a government not to have a bomb squad,” Hansen said. “When we know that somebody is going to retire or leave, there should be a continuation of that.”
Hansen blamed the Gov. Kenneth Mapp administration for dissembling the bomb squad and not informing the Legislature, a claim that Richards disputes.
“That’s not true,” he said. “Folks like to dwell in politics — but I’m not a politician and I don’t play games. Even though I work for this administration, I leave politics up to the politicians. My job is to make sure that I run this department in such a manner that I can continue to deliver credible service to the people.”
Richards said the department is also working to rekindle its K-9 unit, with dogs that can detect explosives and narcotics.