A top official tasked with moving the Virgin Islands Police Department towards completion of a court-ordered use-of-force policy has announced a new initiative from the university that helped launch the effort.
Assistant Police Commissioner Curtis Griffin called the training sessions sponsored by the University of Illinois Center of Public Safety and Justice a modern version of Community Oriented Policing. Territory-wide training sessions began in June for police brass, supervisors and front line officers, he said.
The sessions followed a series of VIPD town meetings held in May on St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix, at which members of a compliance-team task force told the public about use of force policies they have been trying to put in place since 2008.
Lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sued the V.I. government after a series of police-involved shootings and a spotty pattern of follow up revealed the department lacked a clear cut policy. Some incidents received follow up, while others did not, Griffin said. In some cases, even when there was follow up, use of force incidents were not resolved in demonstrable ways.
The actions by Justice led to the creation of a consent decree. As Gov. Kenneth Mapp took charge of the executive branch in 2016, he said his administration would make it a priority to carry out the court’s mandates. Among other steps, Mapp appointed Griffin, then special advisor to the governor, to oversee the effort.
Griffin now says VIPD is 85 percent in compliance, but is struggling to make it to completion. Telling the public about the progress that’s been made, he said, was more of an interim step, but an important one.
University of Illinois’ training series is designed to increase transparency within police departments, internally and publicly. According to an article online at Police Chief Magazine, the Procedural Justice program makes it easier for department heads to understand how supervisors and officers convey even-handed treatment while enforcing the law.
At the same time, the training emphasized the importance of letting the end users of police services – average citizens – gain insights on the process. That step occurred in round-table talks between police chiefs, deputy chiefs, captains, lieutenants; supervisors, officers and citizens.
In some cases, citizens were brought in with help from the VIPD Community Integration Team.
The CIT is a task force meeting monthly to keep police up to date on public safety incidents that might turn into problems later.
“It’s all in an effort of sustainability and reform,” Griffith said.
At the community level on St. John, Procedural Justice brought mixed perspectives.
One CIT member recalled the process bringing two citizens into the discussion. A retired law enforcement officer who works with CIT said a current member of the National Park Service captured the session in a recording. Personal reflections on the talks turned more towards the training and less towards the substance of what was said.
But, as the head of the compliance task force pointed out, it’s a process, one that’s already made its debut at the Delly Deck Restaurant on St. Thomas.
Coffee with a Cop is an informal get-together tried in other police jurisdictions. It’s described as a series of informal get togethers where the men and women in blue chat with community members in a relaxed atmosphere.
At the Delly Deck, the session was dubbed Bush Tea with a Cop. Griffin said similar sessions will be held on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Meanwhile, the VIPD is awaiting a final report from the University of Illinois with an assessment on the trainings taking place this summer in the V.I.
The assistant commissioner said he does not know when next VIPD officials will have to appear before District Court Judge Curtis Gomez to show the progress they’ve made in completing quarterly compliance steps. At the last hearing, held in the spring, Gomez declared the department lagging in its efforts.