Law Enforcement’s Two-Day Effort to Resolve Use of Force Complaints

Two days of team effort went into a consent decree summit held this week on St. Croix. (Shutterstock)

Police, government lawyers, and court-appointed monitors met on St. Croix this week to resolve the use of force reports recently filed against police personnel. It’s been four years since a federal judge said the Virgin Islands Police Department was on its way to meeting the terms of a consent decree over how and when police use force in the performance of their duties.

If officials at VIPD could stick to the compliance steps achieved in December 2018 for the next two years, the decree would be lifted, a judge said. But by 2019, monitors said the efforts fell short. According to the department’s consent decree manager, the summit that took place on St. Croix Wednesday and Thursday was held to address each complaint in a way that would satisfy the court.

The decree was adopted by mutual agreement between police and local and federal Justice officials in 2009. It was adopted to address incidents of abuse uncovered in an internal police investigation five years earlier. For over ten years, lawyers representing VIPD and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division appeared at hearings in District Court to describe the steps taken towards compliance.

VIPD compliance team leader David Cannonier described the efforts undertaken over the two-day summit as a collaboration. The first meeting of its kind took place in 2016, around the time the compliance team was formed, he said.

Since then, Cannonier said there had been two or three sessions, including a summit held in 2021. “The goal of the summit is to allow the monitors to be able to finalize their quarterly report and submit it to the court,” he said.

Local police from the consent decree compliance team and members of the Independent Monitoring Team joined civil rights attorneys and VI Justice Department lawyers giving each report a thorough review. In a Dec. 21 status report filed by Deputy Attorney General Carol Thomas-Jacobs, the current batch of records included 15 civilian complaints and 10 use of force incident reports.

The status report filed by Federal Justice officials on the same day announced the plan to hold a summit and address outstanding complaints.

Once the court is satisfied that police in the Virgin Islands have use of force policies in place and that all personnel know the policies well and can enforce them, the department could be freed from its obligations to the court. It would then be up to the department’s top officials to perform the steps taken in the summit consistently and on their own.

But the compliance manager refuted the notion that this week’s meeting was really a training session. “It’s not designed to be training. It’s designed to remind them what their roles are,” Cannonier said.

No date has been set so far for the next District Court hearing on the police consent decree.