The Federal government will continue to closely monitor the V.I. Police Department’s operations at least until Oct. 31, 2015, under a newly revised plan agreed upon between the two parties.
The oversight, aimed primarily at curbing excessive use of force by some police officers, has been ongoing since 2009 and stemmed from a four-year U.S. Justice Department investigation that concluded the VIPD was frequently turning a blind eye to the problem.
The revised agreement calls for the police to implement a long, detailed list of improvements by Oct. 31, 2013, and prove it has maintained them for at least two years thereafter, until 2015. Essentially, it gives the department an additional year and a half to meet the conditions it had agreed to meet in the original 2009 consent decree by March of this year.
Among the myriad of policies and procedures outlined in the agreement are the following:
-- Incorporate a use-of-force model that teaches disengagement, area containment, surveillance, waiting out a subject, summoning reinforcements or calling in specialized units;
-- When possible, allow individuals to submit to arrest before force is used;
-- Prohibit the use of choke holds except when deadly force is authorized;
-- “Absent exigent circumstances” an off-duty officer should not take action, but should notify on-duty officers of potential criminal activity
-- An off-duty officer who does take police action should submit to a sobriety test, when circumstances warrant;
-- All incidents involving use of force and/or the discharge of a firearm should be reported;
-- Citizen complaints against an officer must be thoroughly investigated administratively and, if warranted, referred to the attorney general’s office for consideration of prosecution. Regardless of the legal disposition of a case, the administrative investigation must be completed and appropriate administrative action taken;
-- Complaint forms must be easily accessible to the general public and officers must be trained in taking citizen complaints;
-- VIPD must reinforce that the use of excessive force will subject officers to discipline, possible criminal prosecution and/or civil liability; and
-- The department will maintain a computerized database of use of force reports and hire and/or train existing staff for inputting both current and historical data into the system so it can track patterns and identify problem areas and officer.
The revised agreement comes after months of public debate between VIPD and the federal agency charged with tracking progress on implementing the consent decree, the Office of Independent Monitor, over just how close the police were to meeting its requirements.
The parties met in District Court in April and again in July before Chief Judge Curtis Gomez, who approved the original consent decree and has now approved the revised plan.
Gomez has not ruled on another issue: the federal government wants oversight to continue indefinitely or at least until 2017; the V.I. government wants to stick with the original concept that the consent decree will expire two years after the department is deemed by the court to have come into “substantial compliance” with its terms. If VIPD meets that threshold by the new target date of October 2013, and maintains compliance, that means the decree would expire in 2015.