The V.I. Police Department reacted sharply to a federal monitor’s report criticizing what it called the slow pace of progress on a consent decree the territory entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2009, addressing excessive use of force by police and inadequate training and discipline among other concerns.
The Office of the Independent Monitor’s quarterly report, issued at the end of August, faulted the territory for failing to comply with a substantive provision of the decree. It cited what it called the V.I. Police Department’s slow rate of progress and specifically called on the executive leadership team – consisting of the police commissioner, assistant police commissioner, chiefs, deputy chiefs and training director) to "recommit themselves to complying with the decree.
"While we commend the chief of the St. Croix District and the training director for taking a more active role in the consent decree compliance process, the rest of the executive leadership team also needs to increase their progress," the OIM report said.
It cited as an example the consent decree working groups. According to the monitor’s report, "the chief and deputy chief of the St. Thomas district need to become more actively involved in the work of their respective complaint process and management and supervision working groups."
The report observes, "While we encouraged the working group leaders to delegate discrete tasks to ‘point persons’ – which, after some delay, they did – they should not abdicate their responsibilities to those individuals. Among other things, working group leaders must continually re-evaluate and communicate their working groups’ objectives, regularly attend working group meetings, review key policies relating to their areas of responsibility, and interact with other working groups and VIPD personnel, particularly regarding training, as necessary."
The consent decree was entered into by the Virgin Islands, V.I.P.D., and the United States Department of Justice in March 2009 to resolve a lawsuit brought by the United States alleging that the Virgin Islands and VIPD violated federal law by engaging “in a pattern or practice of excessive force by officers of the Virgin Islands Police Department and by the failure to adequately train, supervise, investigate, and discipline officers, and the failure to establish consistent policies, procedures, and practices that appropriately guide and monitor the actions of VIPD officers and the VIPD’s response to those actions.”
Acting Commissioner Raymond L. Hyndman took exception to the comments that the department is moving slowly. In a statement released by the department Thursday, the VIPD argued that the department has completed has more than 90 percent of force-related policies mandated by the consent decree, including 12 policies completed and approved, with three additional submitted and pending approval.
The department said the consent decree does not clearly delineate the number or type of force policies required. For that reason the VIPD focused on the core force policies and only realized in November 2010 that other policies were required.
"This lack of clarity in the consent decree contributed to delays in the timely development of force related policies," the department’s statement claimed.
"Our goal is to achieve and maintain a standard of policing that is consistent with best police practices," the statement says, "Thus it is important that all policies and procedures are adequately reviewed and vetted before being implemented department wide. As such, accuracy and standards are sometimes more critical than adhering to established timelines."
The department called "contradictory" the report’s claim that Commissioner Novelle E. Francis Jr., who has since retired, and/or Acting Commissioner Hyndman, who took over last month, did not provide help to overcome roadblocks.
"In fact, in the monitor’s own report the former commissioner (Francis) was applauded for his efforts toward promoting ‘a tone of compliance’ and created the working groups, which should have a lasting, positive impact on the departments’ consent decree compliance process.”
Hyndman grew particularly heated over the report’s distinction between the actions of St. Croix Chief Christopher Howell and St. Thomas/St. John Chief Rodney Querrard.
"As acting commissioner, it is my opinion that the monitors or one specific monitor is attempting to divide the leadership of the department by pitting one district against the other through their constant disparaging remarks," Hyndman wrote in the response. "To question my commitment as the acting police commissioner is simply outrageous … among my other efforts, I established a written requirement that all working groups convene on a weekly basis with me to be briefed on progress and advised of any obstacles so that they could be resolved. Any statement to the contrary is untruthful."
The Virgin Islands Government has committed more than $5 million over a five year period to address the provisions of the consent decree.
The department’s statement also pointed out that the VIPD has a very small staff dedicated solely to performing consent decree work.
"Our main responsibility is to protect life and property in the Virgin Islands," the statement said. "While consent-decree compliance is considered a high priority, it is necessary that this police department’s main focus remains the safety of the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands."