Monitors: Police must do more to meet consent decree
Published: February 20, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
Independent monitors tracking the V.I. Police Department's efforts to meet a federal consent decree said that the department must put more effort into reaching compliance.
"The Police Commissioner should hold every member of the VIPD (from the chiefs to patrol officers) responsible for doing their part to advance the VIPD's consent decree compliance efforts," the report states. "After monitoring the VIPD for almost three years, we are certain that the VIPD will not achieve substantial compliance if the VIPD maintains the status quo."
There is a significant lag time between the time period monitored for the report - in this case, from July to September 2012 - and the point when the monitors' report is posted to the public, which was in late January.
Acting Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr., who returned from retirement to become assistant police commissioner less than a month ago after Commissioner Henry White Jr. abruptly resigned, said he has not yet finished reading the lengthy report, which covers a period when he was not working with the department.
"I'm still trying to go through it piece-by-piece, but I have not gone through the entire document yet," Querrard said. "But it is the Police Department's intention to do whatever is needed to meet the demands of the consent decree."
Querrard said that the Police Department and the U.S. Justice Department may not be in full agreement on certain things but that all the parties are working together with a goal of having police meet the mandates.
Noting the problems the Police Department has had in the past with meeting deadlines, independent monitors William Johnson and Steven Witzel said in the report that they expect that police will adhere strictly to new deadlines in a new action plan that the court approved.
The action plan outlines steps police will take to meet the consent decree mandates, assigns responsibilities and sets interim timelines so that the territory can reach consent decree compliance by Oct. 31, 2013 - more than a year later than it originally was supposed to do so.
The territory had missed all the previous deadlines in the consent decree, and U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez last fall modified the consent decree to give police more time to reach compliance. He also signed off on the action plan, which then became part of the consent decree.
On Jan. 31, the territory filed a motion with the court, asking for some interim deadlines in the new action plan to be extended, so that police have more time to complete training in two policies and one software system.
The U.S. Justice Department did not oppose that motion, and the judge has not yet ruled on it.
The independent monitoring team in the third quarter of 2012 found that police were underreporting their uses of force and that supervisors were not always properly completing their use of force investigations or not completing them in a timely manner.
Police practice experts who are part of the independent monitoring team reviewed a sampling of arrest reports to gauge how well police are following their own policy on reporting uses of force.
According to the report, the experts found that from a sampling of 243 arrest reports, 18 involved use of force, based on the officer's written narrative or because the report indicated that the person resisted arrest.
Of those 18, 11 did not have the required forms filled out to indicate that force was used, according to the report.
Experts also reviewed 26 investigation files into police use of force that were supposed to be complete.
They found that only half of those files actually were complete.
"The VIPD also continues to allow the timeframe for completing use of force investigations to expire before completing the required investigations," the report states.
For the first nine months of 2012, only 27 percent of use of force investigations on St. Thomas and 33 percent of use of force investigations on St. Croix were finished on time according to the Police Department's own policy, with the rest overdue, the report says.
"Force accountability, including fully reporting all uses of force, is a critical requirement of the consent decree," the report states. "Without that, uses of force may never be investigated, training deficiencies may never be identified and addressed, and the department's use of force statistics (which fuel much of the VIPD's risk management program) will be incomplete."
The review of completed use of force investigations also turned up "persistent deficiencies and areas for improvement," the report said.
Although the report noted the Police Department's efforts to do additional training on its policy pertaining to accepting citizen complaints, the experts saw no improvement in officers' knowledge of the complaint process, according to the report.
Only 36 percent to 40 percent of officers responded correctly when asked to explain the process for a citizen to file a complaint, the report states.
However, the report also notes that supervisors showed improvement in their working knowledge of the evidence standard used in investigating those citizen complaints.
It also states that experts saw that some personnel missed significant portions of some in-service training programs - while others didn't show up.
During the third quarter of 2012, after almost two years of work, the U.S. Justice Department also approved a protocol for the Police Department's risk management system, the report states.
Joint action plan
The monitors say they are hopeful that the new joint action plan will "reinvigorate" consent decree compliance efforts.
"We are mindful, however, that the parties jointly agreed on and the court approved a similar document on Nov. 24, 2010," the report states. "As we have previously reported, the VIPD failed to satisfy many of the interim deadlines set forth in that document and still has not substantially complied with a single substantive consent decree provision."
Meanwhile, police have requested extensions on deadlines in the new action plan for training on two policies - vehicle pursuit and using spike strips - and on Blue Team, a computer software that is part of the risk management system.
According to the motion for an extension, police have trained some officers to be trainers on the policies, and the training will be offered between April and June.
The motion blames the delay in getting everyone trained on Blue Team on "technical difficulties with Blue Team and scheduling challenges," but states that police expect the Blue Team training to be finished by March 15.
The consent decree
The consent decree came about after the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into the V.I. Police Department's use of force in March 2004 after The Daily News' publication of "Deadly Force," a 44-page investigative report detailing the Police Department's history of using excessive force and failing to investigate or prosecute the officers involved.
As a result of the investigation, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit in December 2008, contending that the V.I. Police Department was violating residents' civil rights by engaging in a pattern or practice of using excessive force and was tolerating that conduct by failing to adequately train, supervise, investigate and discipline its officers and by failing to establish consistent policies, procedures and practices to appropriately guide and monitor their actions.
The consent decree, which a judge signed in March 2009, settled that lawsuit by forcing the territory to fix the problems through meeting myriad mandates. It contained specific deadlines for each mandate.
The Police Department then proceeded to miss all the deadlines in the original consent decree.
It is now in the midst of the extension that Gomez granted to give police more time to comply.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email email@example.com.