White is third commissioner to leave since consent decree was entered 4 years ago
Published: January 22, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. CROIX - V.I. Police Commissioner Henry White Jr.'s resignation last week came at a critical time for the territory in meeting the court-ordered mandates of a federal consent decree.
However, Government House expressed confidence in the ability of the V.I. Police Department to move forward with implementing the reforms the consent decree requires, even after the commissioner leaves.
"We don't anticipate any lapse in the work that's being done by the VIPD to meet the mandates required by the consent decree," Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. said, noting that the Police Department has a number of teams working on different aspects of implementing the consent decree. "That work is going to continue."
The consent decree settles a lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department filed 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 settled that lawsuit by forcing the territory to fix the problems.
A judge signed-off on the consent decree in March 2009.
The Police Department then proceeded to miss all the deadlines in the original document.
The department now is in the midst of an extension that a federal judge granted to give police more time to comply.
The territory has agreed to an action plan - now part of a court order in the case - that says police will meet all of the provisions of the consent decree by Oct. 31, just more than nine months away.
White's resignation, submitted Jan. 15, is effective Feb. 15. He does not have an assistant commissioner.
Greaux said that Gov. John deJongh Jr. has not discussed the resignation with the independent monitors who oversee the Police Department's implementation of the consent decree.
However, Greaux said the governor has spoken with people from "various components of law enforcement" since he accepted White's resignation, and is confident that there will be no disruption in the work.
"He is confident in the ability of the department and the government to meet those deadlines," Greaux said. "He's very comfortable with what he's been told by the leadership of the VIPD."
The consent decree itself contains provisions that prevent the independent monitors and their staff from making public statements about the Police Department outside of certain, limited parameters.
The monitors are required to issue written, quarterly public reports about the Police Department's progress with the consent decree.
There is a lag time, though, before reports are released. The most recent report that had been made public as of Friday covered the second quarter of 2012, which ended in June.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens, a retired V.I. police lieutenant and chairman of the 30th Legislature's Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, said his concern with White's departure and the consent decree is "the lack of leadership within the Police Department at that level."
"With no one at the helm, what happens with the policies? The working groups can still do what they need to do, but there still needs to be someone at the helm," Gittens said.
He also pointed to the turnover of Police commissioners during the consent decree - and said that some continuity is needed.
Three commissioners - James McCall, Novelle Francis Jr. and White - have been at the helm of the department since the court case was filed just more than four years ago.
Gittens said Friday that he can only make recommendations - and at that point, the administration had not reached out to him.
With so much riding on consent decree compliance, though, Gittens said he does not believe the department can afford to have vacancies among top brass for too long.
"They should be aggressively finding a replacement before Feb. 15," Gittens said. It also will be key for White to continue to fully "carry out his duties and responsibilities as police commissioner until his date of departure," he said.
Gittens said he hopes the governor looks within the territory for a new commissioner.
"I do encourage the administration to seek local leadership right here in the territory," he said. "I'm pretty sure we have some guys who could run the Police Department the way it should be."
Greaux said last week that the names of some potential candidates for the commissioner's slot - local residents - had surfaced but also the governor is "far from a final decision."
- Contact reporter Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.