April 7, 2009 — The search is on for a monitor to keep an eye on the progress the Virgin Islands Police Department makes in meeting the requirements of a consent decree which was signed March 23.
Speaking Tuesday night at the Rotary Club West in Frederiksted, Police Commissioner James H. McCall told Rotarians the decree will help guide the department in avoiding problems of the past.
The decree was agreed to by the U.S. Justice Department, the V.I. Police Department, and the V.I. Justice Department as the culmination of an investigation into some VIPD operations — specifically its internal affairs procedures and its training programs — that was launched in 2004. (See: "Consent Decree Designed to Check Excessive Force by V.I. Police Officers.")
The consent decree sets out specific improvements in procedures and policies the police department must meet within five years. Without it, the government might have faced a massive lawsuit and individuals formerly with the department might have faced legal problems.
The department has five years to meet all the goals of the decree. A monitor will be hired to keep track of the progress.
McCall said Tuesday selecting the monitor shouldn't take long. The decree gives a 150-day deadline, but he doesn't expect it to take that long. He said a meeting is planned for next week to begin the process of finding someone.
McCall told the Rotary Club that the consent decree wasn't something for the department to be afraid of. On the contrary, he said, it gives impetus to make improvements he was already determined to make.
McCall noted that the investigation arose after complaints from the community about "a pattern of bad behavior in your police department."
McCall had opened his talk before the Rotary Club by noting that while the department has made gains in combating crime, they can't do it alone. Successes in combating crime requires that the public believes in the police department, he said, and be willing to help out by providing information and supporting standards of community conduct.
Police need to remember who they work for.
"You're in the profession to serve the public," he said. "You work for the public, the public doesn't work for you."
Statistics show that most violent crimes in the territory are committed by people between the ages of 16 and 24, male and female.
"It is obvious we are having problems with our young people," he said. "We are not immune to our young people committing homicides and other violent offenses."
You can point at low graduation rates or the ready availability of firearms in the community, but "a lot of this starts at home," McCall said.
"You can blame the education system all day, but I think you have to look inside yourself."
When parents know that their child has a gun in the house, or brings home electronics or jewelry or cash with no explanation of how it was obtained, and they allow the child to keep it, it sends a message that crime is OK, McCall said.
The commissioner also talked about efforts to interdict guns flowing into the territory, saying again that while it's comforting to blame outsiders, the fact is that most guns coming illegally into the territory are brought here by residents.
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