We believe the establishing of a civilian review board to monitor the performance of our peace officers is move that is very timely. When we consider the state of law enforcement in our community, the many incidents of misconduct, of negligence and the general lack of discipline of the various peace officers including those of the V.I. Police Department. The review board as I understand its purpose, to provide objective monitoring of those public servants classified as peace officers, all law enforcement agents of the Virgin Islands government.
The news media have been reporting several incidents of misconduct by police officers. Citizens have been complaining about the lack of law enforcement and the lack of police presence in their neighborhood. TheV.I. Police Department is not the only law enforcement agency of the government, there are about half a dozen agencies that have personnel with peace officer status. Peace officers, agents of the government are sworn to obey and enforce the laws of the territory and applicable federal laws. Unfortunately, too many peace officers that are not members of the police department tend to be exclusive in their law enforcement duties, they enforce only the laws and regulations that are the primary responsibility of their agency or department. Only the V.I. Police Department has general jurisdiction for law enforcement in the territory. That does not relieve other peace officers from assisting in promoting law and order in the community.
The deplorable law enforcement status in the territory is due to poor leadership and poor discipline within the rank and file. We believe that a civilian review board if it is adequately instituted and funded could help improve the performance standard of our peace officers, including members of the VIPD. The review board could help the legislature improve legislation that would improve the profession of law enforcement in the US Virgin Islands.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the legislation to establish the civilian review board alleging the legislation would give the board too much power. That is exactly the intent of the legislation, to give the board the power to exercise the responsibilities the law assigns it. But Turnbull like most politicians of his vintage are not interested in meaningful change. Changes do not have to be radical to be rejected by some, it is more comfortable for them to continue in the old traditional way and continue to complain about its deficiencies without really doing much to change the way things are done. The politicians who have been in office for the longest are the ones most responsible for the status quo; they had the most opportunities to make a real difference, a positive difference in our government and they failed.
Let us wait and see if the 26th. Legislature is serious, if they are really committed to the establishment of the civilian review board as the bill defines it. Let us see if the sponsor or sponsors will muster the support of their colleagues to override Turnbull's veto. Situations like these reveal the sincerity of the legislators, their conviction of worthiness of their legislation. The citizens should remain vigilant and observe the performance of these legislators. Are they true demagogues or just lack courage of their convictions, it they have a conviction. Let us wait and find out.
J. J. Estemac
Citzens for Better Government
St. Thomas, VI
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