No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
U.S. Virgin Islands
To say the U.S. Virgin Islands are paradise, is to make the most obvious observation on the planet. The Caribbean territory is spread east of Puerto Rico in all directions, the U.S. Virgin Islands is the easternmost locale in the U.S., with Point Udall on the island of St. Croix being the farthest location east. Picturesque beaches, lagoons with a view of the ocean floor for miles, many U.S. citizens try to relocate here in retirement, and many find the lifestyle to not be exactly what they thought it would be. Hurricane season is dangerous in this portion of the Caribbean, and consequently residents face death, and when they survive, massive damage to homes, businesses, and all other infrastructure is an all too often visited reality.
Police officers in the Virgin Islands face dangerous situations on a routine basis. Despite the paradise look and feel, some people choose to interrupt it with criminal behavior. Unfortunately, our next officer met his fate this way.
Patrolman Patrick Emmanuel Sweeney
Officer Patrick Emmanuel Sweeney was a three-year veteran of the US Virgin Islands Police Department. In October 1975, the St. Croix High School was being constantly vandalized and broken into by criminals. VIPD decided to assign two officers on static patrol at the school for every shift. Officer Sweeney was assigned to the swing shift, starting at 4:00 PM and ending at midnight. The officers had made some impact on the crime by their presence but were still unable to completely solve the issue. The school, which is now an elementary school, has a large stucco fence that surrounds it, and with multiple buildings with difficult access points, the campus makes for difficult canvassing.
On October 27, 1975, Officer Sweeney signed onto shift, and was notified by the off-going officers that the suspects were likely to return during his shift, because they had returned throughout the early morning, causing damage to buildings.
Within 15 minutes of starting the shift, Officer Sweeney and his partner sighted adult male trespassing on the property, and they began to chase them. One of the men turned, produced a handgun, and fired a shot, striking Officer Sweeney in the chest. Officer Sweeney was rushed to a nearby hospital, but almost as soon as he was placed in emergency surgery room, he was declared dead.
There some details about Office Sweeney’s death that are lost to history. First, the school was in session at the time of his death, meaning the person who did kill him was carrying a firearm on school grounds, and discharged with students present. Some people who were there at the time state that Officer Sweeney was blocking a junior high student who may have been the intended victim of the gunshot. The details of Officer Sweeney’s family are not officially documented, but we know he had at least one son, and now has several granddaughters, all of whom have gone on to become wonderful, productive citizens in the US Virgin Islands. Even in death, Officer Sweeney provided our fair nation spectacular gifts that we can never thank him properly enough for. His death was the first by gunfire in the US Virgin Islands, and his loss inspired the greater law enforcement community in USVI to band together and memorialize those they lost on an annual basis. Officer Sweeney’s dedication to service inspired the next four generations of leadership within the USVI Police. It’s as if we never lost him. But surely, we did.
In memory of Patrolman Patrick Emmanuel Sweeney.