Dear Editor,

It is imperative that reporters and conveyors seek truth in accuracy as fact- finders. They must dig beyond the initial information that is presented to ascertain the validity of information. Good reporters know how to set aside their biases and examine all pertinent information to present to the audience. I have had the fortunate experience of engaging with very good reporters who were fair and reported accurate and objective news. A good reporter has a curious mind and demonstrates integrity through fact finding pursuit.

In the field of law enforcement, it is the expectation of the community that the role of policing must adjust to the needs and expectations of the people they serve. In some regards, policing today is different from the way policing was conducted two decades ago. The purpose of policing is to protect people and property.

When it is determined that a police agency has routinely utilized excessive force, government and community stakeholders may pursue legal actions against the agency and its personnel who violated the rights of citizens. A consent decree is an agreement between the parties and the court that outlines a plan or expectations of a police department to comply with constitutional accepted policing practices. A consent decree aims to promote police integrity while holding those officers who deprive people of their rights and privileges accountable.

VIPD monitored for 12 Years

As a result of past use of excessive force practices, the Virgin Islands Police Department was placed under a consent decree in 2009. For more than a decade the Department has been working with an Independent Monitoring Team (IMT) to accomplish the goal, as agreed upon. The current IMT has been assigned to VIPD for approximately six years. Throughout this period, it is commonplace for the position of VIPD leadership to be vastly different from that of the IMT.

The IMT was never intended to be the administrative or disciplinary authority of the Department. That responsibility rest with the police commissioner. VIPD has utilized its Change and Compliance Unit (CCMU) to ensure effective monitoring and visibility of cases involving use of force.

Fact-based decisions

I arrived as police commissioner in the territory in July 2019, with my name and a history of integrity and competence. My prior position as the deputy assistant director of the Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations with a national law enforcement agency helped in my preparation to address matters of conduct, judgment, and use of force.

As such, I reviewed each use of force incident with a level of openness and fairness- led by the facts of each case. When additional information regarding a case was introduced, it was taken into consideration. The standards and expectations are outlined in the department’s policies and guidelines, and every employee, regardless of rank, was expected to adhere to the use of force policy.

No perfect police department

Prior to each consent decree hearing, there is a pattern of issuance of a news report, based on a review of the IMT quarterly report. To be clear, the monitor’s position is not a factual depiction of cases, but rather their interpretation of information. The narrative from the IMT that as police commissioner, I excused “serious violations by officers and supervisors,” (The Daily News, Aug. 24) is nothing short of misinformation at best. The fact is that I held officers to a high standard, and they were disciplined if found in violation of the department’s policies — up to and including termination.

The department can and should continue to make disciplinary decisions, independent of the position of the IMT, as the department has a responsibility to investigate each allegation of excessive force and make rulings uninfluenced by the IMT.

The IMT has an opportunity to play a critical role in VIPD’s success in the demonstration of constitutional policing. There is absolute room for improvement, as the continued inability to accomplish the goal of full compliance is reflective of both the department and the IMT. Although not perfect, the Virgin Islands Police Department has made significant strides toward the fulfillment of the conditions of the consent decree agreement.

— Former V.I. Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor retired from his post in July.