The availability and actions of V.I. Police Department supervisors during use of force investigations is one of the keys to the department’s pursuit of compliance with an 8-year-old federal consent decree, an independent monitor said Monday.
Retired Lt. Palmer Wilson of Charles A. Gruber Consulting, the firm monitoring the VIPD’s efforts towards compliance, said seven of the 20 consent degree paragraphs whose mandates have not been met depend on the actions of supervisors.
The consent decree is the result of a 2008 U.S. Department of Justice complaint alleging that VIPD officers showed a pattern of excessive force and that the department was failing to adequately train, supervise, investigate and discipline its officers.
Paragraphs 31 and 32 of the consent decree mandate that a supervisor respond to the scene of all police uses of force and that incident reports “include a supervisor’s narrative description of the events preceding the use of force.”
If a supervisor does not respond or does not take appropriate action at the scene of all use of force incidents, Wilson said, it creates a “domino effect,” resulting in the department not being able to comply with consent decree paragraphs 33 through 38 in addition.
On Monday and Tuesday, Wilson and retired Police Chief Chet Epperson, a police practices expert with Gruber, led training sessions with small groups of VIPD supervisors at Frenchman’s Reef Marriott Resort that covered use of force investigation practices. Similar sessions are planned for groups of St. Croix supervisors on Wednesday and Thursday.
“We don’t normally do training. It’s not in our mandate,” said Wilson. “If we don’t get some movement on those 32 through 38 paragraphs, we can’t get [the VIPD] in compliance.”
Although monitors and police leadership have said that a department-set compliance deadline of August no longer appears realistic, a court-set deadline is looming for February 2017.
“The best thing to happen would be for the department to be in compliance by the end of the year and for us to go home,” said Wilson.
He said that recent comments made by Sen. Kenneth Gittens, in which he claimed that police monitors have a monetary incentive to draw out the consent decree compliance process, are off the mark.
“It has nothing to do with elongating the job. It’s actually very frustrating for us,” Wilson said.
He added that the slow rate of the VIPD’s compliance isn’t due to negligence or lack of will on the part of the department. Sometimes police resources are limited due to the high rate of violent incidents relative to the territory’s small population, he said.
One of the obstacles to compliance on the consent decree’s use of force investigation paragraphs has been the VIPD’s staffing levels.
In the past, investigations were not being done properly simply because there was often no supervisor available when an incident occurred in a particular zone, Wilson said. But the VIPD has gotten close to solving that problem by ensuring supervisors from alternate zones are always on call.
Personnel issues remain a problem, he said.
“Frankly, we can’t validate if they are understaffed or not, but it certainly appears that they are short,” said Wilson.
He explained that most police departments around the country determine staffing levels by a “deployment analysis” of call reports supplied by local emergency response coordinators. Monitors have been attempting to get a territory report of that kind from VITEMA for over a year with no success, he said.
Although the department may not meet the August compliance deadline it set for itself, Aug. 5 remains the end of the current quarter on which it must report its progress in V.I. District Court at the end of that month.
“We know this can be done; it just takes organization and effort and fortitude,” Wilson said.