V.I. Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor said Thursday that the department may add optional water rescue training for officers, but making swimming ability a requirement could exclude many otherwise qualified recruits.
The department responded Tuesday to an incident on the St. Thomas waterfront, where a man had jumped into the harbor and drowned.
A civilian jumped in and retrieved the victim, and police officers arrived as the victim was being hauled out of the water, according to V.I. Police spokesman Toby Derima.
Velinor said two civilians, a nurse and an anesthesiologist, “started CPR until an off duty EMT and a certified VIPD EMT arrived and assisted. Additionally, the deputy chief of police performed CPR while assisting responding EMT’s and paramedics.”
Responders were unable to revive the victim.
Photos and video of the incident posted to social media appeared to show several officers standing on land with the civilian in the water, prompting questions from the community about officers’ response efforts at the scene.
Derima said that none of the officers who responded were wearing a body camera.
In response to questions from The Daily News, Derima said the ability to swim is not a requirement, and Velinor “does not anticipate making swimming mandatory for police officers, even though he understands that could be kind of a knee-jerk reaction to what happened on Tuesday. That could potentially disqualify a lot of people from coming into the department who want to be police officers.”
It’s unknown how many officers are able to swim, Derima said, but some officers elect for special training to join the Marine Unit or dive team.
Officers are empowered to participate in water rescues, but Derima said those who cannot swim or are not confident in the water could put themselves or others in danger if they attempt to rescue a drowning person.
“If you have the skill in swimming then you can use that skill, but it’s not necessarily a requirement,” Derima said.
He said the department is not considering swimming lessons, but may add additional training in water rescue scenarios for swimmers who want to learn additional skills.
Even competent swimmers are put at serious risk of danger when trying to save a drowning person, and “you need to learn how to jump in the water and save someone who may be drowning and flailing,” Derima said. “He could see introducing that kind of training on top of the first aid and the CPR that the officers do get for those officers who already know how to swim, to be able to jump in and safely save someone who is drowning.”
Derima said police will release the name of the victim who died Tuesday, pending notification of his next of kin.