After nine years of effort under the auspices of seven commissioners, and two years of intensified effort, the Virgin Islands Police Department has cleared a major hurdle towards crafting a use of force policy. On Wednesday Police Commissioner Delroy Richards and the VIPD top brass heard a federal judge declare the department had reached substantial compliance on a longstanding consent decree.
District Court Judge Curtis Gomez credited officials and a task force created two years ago to work through portions of the court order that held the department back from reaching its goal. At the same time, the judge cautioned police chiefs, directors and commanders to maintain vigilance over the next two years and meet all provisions of the policy.
If that can be done, he said, the federal consent decree can be dismissed.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp and U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert both hailed the development. In comments made to the Source the governor – a former policeman – expressed his aspirations for the department beyond the consent decree.
“I wanted to lend my voice and support VIPD,” the governor said. “It really was a task, and it’s not easy.”
“Completion of this portion of the consent decree process is vitally important to the future of the territory,” U.S. Attorney Shappert said. “We are grateful for the hard work and dedication of so many VIPD officers who have worked to ensure that constitutional policing is the policy for law enforcement in the Virgin Islands. Today’s finding by the District Court underscores VIPD’s commitment to protecting the rights of all Americans, as territorial officers work to enhance public safety.”
The consent decree was entered in 2009 to address allegations of a pattern or practice of uses of force by VIPD officers that deprived persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. Pursuant to the consent decree, VIPD reviewed and revised its use of force policies, improved force investigations, modified its citizen complaint process, updated its risk management system, and provided more training to its officers.
“VIPD also worked closely with a court-appointed Independent Monitoring Team to ensure full implementation of the consent decree,” Shappert added.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice added his congratulations to the VIPD.
“The Department of Justice applauds the Virgin Islands Police Department for implementing reforms that protect constitutional rights while enhancing the safety of police officers and the public,” Dreiband said. “The court’s finding that VIPD is in substantial compliance with the consent decree is an important step, and we are pleased with the fundamental changes that VIPD has made to its practices and procedures.”
Mapp thanked the leadership and the officers of the Virgin Islands Police Department and others who worked with the Mapp-Potter Administration to comply with the federal consent decree imposed on the VIPD in 2009.
With the judge’s declaration, VIPD was “at last, substantially in compliance with the conditions imposed by the court,” the governor said.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Gomez described the step as a move towards Constitutional policing. He also urged the legal teams to enforce the newly created policies diligently and continue to inform the court of the progress being made every three months.
Over the course of time there have been delays in achieving compliance steps, Gomez said. At first the court left it in the hands of VIPD to act in good faith and bring about change. But that didn’t work initially, he said.
Among the last provisions to be met were the timely handling of civilian complaints about use-of-force incidents and transmission of the findings to VIPD commanders. Officials also had to tell the court what procedures would be used once that information is passed along to either train or discipline those who violated the policies.
On Thursday, as he travelled to St. John to host a holiday event for children, the governor said he saw compliance as a step towards the day when VIPD would become an accredited police agency.
“I would like to congratulate Commissioner Delroy Richards, Assistant Commissioner Curtis Griffin and all those that worked with us to bring about important improvements at the Virgin Islands Police Department,” Mapp said in his official statement.
Shappert said the U.S. Attorney’s office also will be keeping on eye on the department’s progress.
“We will continue to monitor VIPD’s progress over the next two years to ensure that these changes are sustained and that the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands receive the effective, constitutional policing that they deserve. Completion of this portion of the consent decree process is vitally important to the future of the territory,” she said.