New plan gives V.I. Police 4 more years to comply with federal consent decree
Published: October 3, 2013
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The V.I. Police Department and federal civil rights lawyers have come up with a plan that would keep police operating under a consent decree for at least four more years.
The consent decree is intended to correct problems within the department that prompted the U.S. Justice Department, after a lengthy investigation, to file a lawsuit in 2008 contending that police had a pattern and practice of violating residents' civil rights by using excessive force. Federal civil rights lawyers argued that the Police Department 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 settled that lawsuit in March 2009, by forcing the territory to take specific actions and make improvements, including developing and implementing policies and conducting training, to remedy the situation.
Originally set to last five years, the consent decree gave police three years - until March 2012 - to comply with the mandates, then required them to maintain compliance for two years before they were released from the court orders.
The territory agreed to meet a myriad mandates and the deadlines in the case, but police proceeded to miss them all. Court orders eventually were necessary to push deadlines back, some more than once.
Now, a major deadline in the consent decree to reach compliance with all the mandates is looming on Oct. 31.
But the territory isn't going to make it.
On Tuesday, the territory and U.S. Justice Department filed a joint motion in the case, asking a federal judge to make some changes to the consent decree that would give police an additional two years - until Oct. 31, 2015 - to make the mandated reforms.
If police meet the proposed new deadline, they would have to maintain compliance with all those mandates for two more years - until October 2017 - to be released from the consent decree and the requirement of paying independent monitors to evaluate their progress and compliance efforts.
The motion refers to "countless hours" in which the parties have worked and negotiated to come up with realistic, workable changes in an action plan that is part of the consent decree and comprises interim deadlines and actions police agree to take to help them make sustainable reforms by the new proposed final deadline.
The motion also indicates that police have not stalled in their efforts to meet the mandates and are making steady progress.
"Indeed, the monitors' reports over the last year describe improvements in VIPD's progress as it continues to push toward achieving substantial compliance," the motion states. "The monitors' most recent report, covering the first quarter of 2013, describes significant progress, particularly in the areas of policy and training."
That report notes that for the first time, police reached full compliance with one of the mandates. The motion states that monitors anticipate finding police in compliance with a number of other mandates in their next report.
The motion says that for most of the consent decree requirements, the Police Department has finished developing policies and initial training on those policies, and now is in the implementation and auditing phase, That is the final phase that must be completed for the monitors to judge that police have met a mandate.
"With the adoption of policies that require constitutional policing and good police practices, and with the completion of training on most of the policies, VIPD now has much of the infrastructure in place on which to build greater progress and ensure success," the motion states. "As VIPD continues to implement changes, demand accountability from its supervisors and officers, and provide ongoing proof of accomplishments to the monitoring team, VIPD fully expects to meet the extended interim deadlines and the newly extended substantial compliance deadline of October 31, 2015, as provided in the attached proposed revised action plan."
An extended deadline also will give the Police Department more time to build up its cadre of supervisors, "who are critical for the auditing and implementation phase of the consent decree," according to the motion.
Any proposed revision to the consent decree or action plan will require court approval.
There had been an evidentiary hearing set for next week in the case, for the court to hear arguments related to the territory's request in June to extend a deadline in the existing action plan.
The parties on Tuesday filed a joint motion to cancel that hearing, in light of the fact that they negotiated a new action plan with revised deadlines and have asked that the judge approve it and incorporate it into the consent decree.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Curtis Gomez, who presides over the case, rescheduled the hearing for November.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.