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Judge Weighs Progress on VIPD Consent Decree

The stage was set Monday for the V.I. Police Department to be allowed more time to comply with the 2009 Consent Decree regarding a U.S. Justice Department complaint concerning a pattern of excessive force and a lack of public accountability.

After five hours of testimony on whether the department is doing all it can to reach the mandates of the decree in a timely manner, District Court Judge Curtis Gomez signaled that he would consider accepting an amendment to the Consent Decree.

Attorney Marina Mozer, representing Justice’s Office of Independent Monitor, said she had prepared a draft order for revising the deadline while at the same time requiring more detailed information on how and when the Police Department will meet each of its provisions.

Gomez ended the hearing by inviting both parties to his Chambers for a status conference discussion, which presumably was to include consideration of the draft revised order.

The deadline is actually already passed, since the Consent Decree calls for V.I. Police to be “substantially compliant” for at least two years before the end of the decree, which is March 23, 2014.

The Office of Independent Monitor and the Police Department have been publicly at odds over whether the department is “substantially compliant” on any of the 104 mandates in the decree.

The two sides appeared friendly before the hearing began and Mozer, who spoke first, told the Court the federal government wants “to focus on the way forward.”

She attempted to recount a plan for that, but Gomez said he called the hearing specifically to determine how far along the territory is in complying with the consent decree.

A number of police officials testified about progress that has been made in purchasing equipment and developing and implementing policies and procedures – and particularly training officers about those policies.

St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell, who serves as chair of the department working group established to implement decree provisions, said the department has put in place 17 policies, the majority of which have to do with the issue of excessive use of force.

Lt. Arthur Hector, who is the territorywide training director, said officers have been trained in eight of the policies.

Police Commissioner Henry White said “training is our major component” in improving operations. He blamed red tape at Property and Procurement for slowing down efforts to contract with training consultants, a theme reiterated by several in the department.

Dennis Norwicki, one of the four-member team of monitors, testified they have questions about some of the training. The monitors don’t consider a provision to be implemented unless the policy is written and approved, training about it has been completed, and testing shows that 95 percent of those trained retained the information.

Norwicki cited two instances in which tests showed as little as 50 percent of officers on one island had actually retained information. He also questioned the attendance rate of officers in some training.

Hector and White both testified that all training should be complete by Dec. 31, 2012.

Gomez questioned the timetable when attorney Carol Thomas-Jacobs, representing the Police Department, made her summary statements. He said the local government is saying it will accomplish in eight months what it hasn’t accomplished in three years.

“The problem is you didn’t proceed in a timely fashion,” he said.

During White’s testimony, in response to a question from the judge, he said the department has spent about $3.1 million so far on the project, with about $2.1 million of that going to the Justice Department independent monitors. The rest went for contractors, training and publications about how to file a complaint against a police officer.

Gomez later asked Mozer if it did not “give you pause” that two-thirds of the money spent on compliance is going to monitors. Mozer said if more were spent on the other items, less may be needed for monitors, and she also said monitors offer technical assistance as well as oversight.

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