The Virgin Islands Police Department held training sessions for about 70 police officers this week to move the department toward compliance with its federal consent decree.
The officers trained Tuesday and Wednesday on St. Thomas, continuing Thursday and Friday on St. Croix, in handling situations where force was required and in handling citizens’ complaints.
An independent monitoring team, paid for by the territory and reporting to U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez, conducted the training.
Monitor Palmer Wilson said the team is not mandated to provide training to the VIPD, but, “Since we know what the problems are, we thought we could do it.”
The monitoring team has access to all reports concerning the use of force by the Police Department.
Wilson said from what he saw in the training and in the reports, the police officers have the “capacity and the ability” to be in compliance with the decree, but sometimes that capacity was not “applied.” He said that officers stated that there was not enough staff or time to be fully compliant in reports but, he added, that is an issue that needs to be addressed by others, not the monitors.
The consent decree is a 2009 agreement between the U.S Department of Justice, the V. I. Attorney General’s Office and the VIPD. The next report to the judge on the department’s progress will be made the first week of August.
Wilson gave figures Friday that indicated the department is currently in compliance with more than 60 percent of the issues in the agreement. He would not make a prediction when the consent decree could be lifted. Referring to the V.I. Police Department, he said, “It is up to them.”
St. Croix Chief Winsburt McFarlande said Friday, “The monitors are here to help us toward compliance by providing necessary training and guidelines required by the U.S. Department of Justice.” He said frontline commanders and supervisors were being trained and that each daylong training session had around 17 officers attending.
The monitors during the training session gave specific scenarios, some taken from actual events in the Virgin Islands, and asked the officers to tell how they would respond. Then it was discussed whether this would have been the best response or if were there better responses.
McFarlande said, “The VIPD will do all in its power to provide this community with the kind of service it deserves.”
Deputy Chief Mark Corneiro, who took part in the training previously, said that it was important so officers could “do what they should do well.”
In the last quarterly report of 2015 by the independent monitoring team on the use of force, it was stated, “Needless to say, the fact that standard, routine policies and practices are not in place and/or were dysfunctional within the VIPD is alarming and does not bode well for the future of embedding and sustaining constitutional policing practices in the VIPD cultural and political environment.”
As for handling citizens’ complaints, the report praised the efforts of some officers and stated, “At this time, with continued strong effort, this Consent Decree section will probably be the first to achieve full compliance. Hopefully, this will/can occur in a relatively short period of time.”
The quarterly monitoring reports can be read at http://www.imt-policemonitor.org/.