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Police Training a Key Step in Complying with Consent Decree

Police Training a Key Step in Complying with Consent Decree

Attorney Eric Daigle leads a training session for V.I. law officers at Carambola Wednesday.A roomful of men and women gathering at the Marriott Renaissance Carambola Beach Resort marked a new milestone in the V.I. Police Department’s goal to comply with a federal consent decree, Commissioner Novelle Francis Jr. said Wednesday.

The roomful of students, all V.I. law enforcement officers, listened intently to attorney Eric Daigle explain the legal basis for the department’s new "use of force" policy, which was approved by the U.S. Justice Department just last week after months of revisions and negotiations.

The training that has been going on since last week is to familiarize every V.I. officer with the new policy.

Since early 2009, the VIPD has been under a Department of Justice consent decree, which has given the department five years to improve its operational procedures—everything from the use of force and record keeping to handling and storage of evidence.

Daigle, an attorney who works with law enforcement agencies across the country, held sessions with 300 officers on St. Thomas last week and is working with St. Croix officers this week. First sessions on each island were for supervisors so they would be on the same page with the officers in the field.

Wednesday the conference room at the Carambola held more than 70 police officers, court marshals, and enforcement officers from the V.I. Port Authority and Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

When the sessions are done at the end of the week, every officer in the territory will have been through the training. But that’s just the start, according to Francis.

"If you ask me if one day of training is enough, I’d be the first to say no," Francis said.

It is now up to the officers to take that training and make it part of their daily routine.

"We have a perfect opportunity to make this a world-class police department, the commissioner said. He added that he could see a day coming when departments around the world could be looking at the territory as a model.

"Use of force" is not a single idea applied to a single situation. It is a continuum, starting the first time a law enforcement officer interacts with a citizen on the streets and ranging all the way up to when an officer faces the decision about whether to use deadly force. And to protect the department from lawsuits, the policy covering those decisions must be clear and applied evenly by every officer.

Those policies are based on constitutional principles and court decisions that apply to every law enforcement agency in the country, from the territory all the way to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, Daigle said.

The consent decree was entered into in February 2009 after four years of investigation with the Department of Justice to rein in the unacceptable behavior of some V.I. Police Department officers.

An initial investigation into some VIPD operations – specifically its internal affairs procedures and its training programs – was launched in 2004, and a lengthy report was issued in 2005. Negotiations for a joint consent decree, which was filed in District Court, started in the summer of 2008 in an attempt to address the federal government’s complaints.

In December 2008 the U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint in District Court alleging that the VIPD has been "engaging in a pattern or practice" of subjecting residents to excessive force by police officers. The department tolerated this misconduct by failing to train, supervise, investigate or discipline its officers, or develop clear policies and procedures to guide and monitor the officers, the complaint states.

At the time the decree was finalized in 2009, Attorney General Vincent Frazier said, "When we were presented with the complaint, we felt it was in the best interest of the government to file the consent decree. We did not agree, or admit to any of the allegations made by the Department of Justice, but we did want to take the steps necessary to make ours a better police department."


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