On Feb. 7, 2020, Deputy Commissioner Celvin G. Walwyn and St. Croix District Police Chief Sidney Elskoe provided testimony to members of the Virgin Islands Legislature regarding crime strategies and accomplishments of the Virgin Islands Police Department. I appreciate our leaders standing tall and representing the Department.
During the hearing, at least one senator, although well intended, expressed frustration regarding the consent decree requirements as it relates to searches and seizures (of firearms). Police officers have learned during their academy training and throughout their careers that there are certain practices that are illegal and expressly prohibited. The Bill of Rights, namely the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, expressly prohibits unlawful search and seizure.
The Fourth Amendment also sets requirements for warrant issuance by a judge through demonstration of probable cause. As police officers, we are held to a high standard and VIPD will not engage in practices that are unconstitutional, unethical and illegal. Evidence obtained as a result of violations of the Fourth Amendment are not admissible, and illegal searches that yield evidence are routinely dismissed as the “fruits of the poisonous tree.” Any violation of the Constitution by a VIPD officer can result in lawsuits against the Department, the Government of the Virgin Islands and the officer. Additionally, officers can be criminally prosecuted for civil rights violations if engaged in illegal searches.
Lastly, the consent decree does not direct our policing efforts but outlines that constitutional policing must be adhered to. This is not an option in policing. Officers cannot use excessive force, nor can they conduct illegal practices in furtherance of their policing responsibilities. The consent decree requires that use of force must be reported, documented and reviewed. Additionally, there must be a systematic manner to access those reports of use of force and citizen complaints.
I encourage our police officers to continue to use their training and be guided by policies and best practices. They can rest assured that I will support them in this effort.