Jan. 23, 2004 – U.S. Justice Department authorities say they have begun an inquiry into the operations of the V.I. Police Department which will help them decide whether there is a need for a formal investigation. The probe is looking into the way police handle matters that affect the civil rights of the public, they said.
The inquiry amounts to a review of police procedures and policies and does not imply any suspected criminal wrong-doing on the part of department personnel, Jorge Martinez, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington, D.C., said on Thursday.
The special litigation section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is carrying out the inquiry, Martinez said, looking for any possible "pattern or practice of conduct by a law-enforcement agency that violates federal law."
Martinez declined to say what prompted the inquiry or when it got under way. He said the action is being taken under the police misconduct provisions of the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The provisions give the U.S. attorney general authority to seek redress of any violations found to exist, he said.
The V.I. Daily News on Thursday ran a front-page headline trumpeting the start of a Justice Department "investigation," claiming that it was the result of a 44-page report the newspaper ran on Dec. 30 alleging a pattern of excessive use of police force over two decades. Rather, Martinez said, the probe that's under way is to help federal officials determine whether there is reason to open an investigation.
"Whatever further action is warranted will be determined at a later time," he said.
The Daily News also claimed that actions announced by Police Commissioner Elton Lewis on Jan. 9 at a press conference were in response to its Dec. 30 report.
Lewis announced an initiative to curb violent and organized crime and the appointment of a civilian director of internal affairs for the Police Department and said that all police officers would receive training in civil rights matters. After the newspaper account appeared, he said that the changes had been more than six months in the making and said it was "appalling and shameful" that the newspaper should claim credit for them.
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