Delays in response time from federal monitors on lesson plans – coupled with employee shortages and issues caused by the collective bargaining process – are keeping the V.I. Police Department from “substantially” complying with provisions in its ongoing consent decree, according to officials.
The consent decree is the result of a 2008 U.S. Department of Justice complaint alleging that VIPD officers showed a pattern of excessive force and that the department was failing to adequately train, supervise, investigate and discipline its officers.
During a Thursday hearing in V.I. District Court, government attorney Carla Thomas-Jacobs asked for an extension to allow the department to be in compliance, and while he didn’t appear to make a final decision in court, District Court Judge Curtis Gomez said he hopes the VIPD will be further along the next time they come in for an update.
Eight years is a long time to be under a consent decree, Gomez said, adding that city of Pittsburgh’s Police Bureau was only under theirs for two years before being able to come into compliance. Gomez said that he needs to see “a lot more movement” and an effort by the V.I. Police Department to bring on more people – including civilians – that can help close cases that have been backlogged in the system since 2012.
Developing a policy that will help VIPD close cases more quickly takes time, according to officials, and more manpower than is currently on staff. Several of the VIPD’s top brass, including Police Commissioner Delroy Richards, said the department is getting ready to promote 25 new sergeants territorywide to help with the processing, but Gomez said civilians can also be brought on to help.
A policy has been reviewed and sent back to the federal monitors, and officials said Thursday that they are still waiting on a response. Richards added later, however, that the department has hired a full time recruiter to help boost its numbers.
Along with reducing its stack of cases, VIPD also has to be able to respond to complaints in a timely manner but Assistant Commissioner Curtis Griffin said that even when VIPD has made simple revisions to its policies and procedures, monitors will send back hundreds of revisions that Curtis said are difficult to go through in a short span of time. Some of the revisions are unnecessary, Griffin said, and have resulted in the “gutting” of VIPD policy in favor of language submitted by the monitors.
St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Jason Marsh said the department is still out of compliance with sections 33-38 of the consent decree, which deal with everything from the evaluation of cases to a reduction in the number of cases in which officers ask “leading questions.” The VIPD has asked for training but has also not heard back on that, Marsh said.
Addressing issues dealing with the response time for VIPD supervisors to crime scenes, Marsh said that sometimes supervisors are not notified until the last minute, which makes them late to a scene, while others don’t respond because they might not be working a shift at that time.
When asked by U.S. Attorney Jack Morse what the consequences for those supervisors are, Marsh explained that VIPD’s collective bargaining agreement puts the investigation period for such matters at 50 days, which is often not enough time.
Officials also said statements made Thursday by Morse about the doubling of VIPD’s use of force numbers were not true. In previous years, two police officers responding to an incident would be counted as one if they used force, but now, both would be counted separately, resulting in higher numbers, according to Richards.
While on the stand Thursday, Charles Gruber, whose consulting firm is monitoring the VIPD’s compliance with the consent decree, said he has been pushing the department because that’s what Richards asked him to do. Last quarter, VIPD was only in compliance with four paragraphs, with 12 more to go, but were challenged by not being able to do certain things because of its agreement, such as being able to terminate officers.
Meanwhile, someone has to start working on the backlog of citizen complaints.
“Not even the easy cases are getting closed,” Gruber said.
Wrapping up the hearing, Gomez said he noticed that the tone of the discussion between VIPD and Gruber’s group has become more “adversarial.” Even so, the two sides need to work together to make more progress, he said.