Is the V. I. Police Department really doing all it can to improve its record on use of force and other issues, or are police dragging their feet on complying with a court-approved mandate?
In an attempt to find out, U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for April 23.
At issue is a 2009 Consent Decree under which the local government agreed to implement police policies and procedures to comply with some 104 mandates for improvements, in return for the U.S. Justice Department backing away from its lawsuit against the department. The decree covers everything from procedures for handling citizen complaints to record keeping and the handling and storage of evidence. Gomez is the judge who approved the decree.
The U.S. Justice Department filed its complaint in District Court in December 2008 after a four year investigation into VIPD’s internal affairs procedures and training programs accompanied by complaints of a pattern of the use of excessive force in a culture that excuses such behavior.
The agreement between the federal government and the V.I. Justice and Police Departments gives VIPD five years- until March 23, 2014 – to substantially complete implementation all of its provisions. The Office of Independent Monitor has been tracking the progress in quarterly reports that have been consistently unfavorable in the past year.
The OIM’s December 2011 report said police have failed to meet “any of the deadlines of the Revised Consent Decree Timetable” and are in danger of missing the 2014 deadline. Police responded with a press release in January saying the department has completed 98 percent of policy changes, more than 50 percent of the mandated training, and officers are implementing those policies for which training has been completed.
Since the decree was signed, the VIPD has touted many efforts at compliance, including the purchase of a computerized risk management system to track use of force information, the creation of forms to encourage public input, and comprehensive department training programs.
At a legislative hearing on his appointment in January, Police Commissioner designate Henry W. White Jr. said compliance with the Consent Decree would be a high priority. He also characterized the terms of the agreement as overly ambitious, and said, given the lack of financial resources in the government, some are “unreachable” within the timeframe.