Morgantown police review effort begins to wrap up

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Community Policing and Citizens Review Committee plans to have a draft proposal ready for the committee of the whole meeting January 26.

The draft is expected to provide the new civilian panel with the ability to investigate allegations of misconduct or criminal behavior by police and make disciplinary recommendation to the chief of police. If the recommendations are not accepted by the chief of police he would be required to explain why in writing.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has been reviewing the work of the committee and has already explained that a civilian review board investigatory powers would be a violation of state law.

“If we push it through on the agenda for February I don’t know that it will help the timeline,” Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney said,” Certainly the AG is going to come back with some comments we’ll want to respond to.”

Currently, police misconduct or complaints are investigated like any other criminal matter. The accused has an opportunity to respond before disciplinary action. If the officer takes issue with the punishment an appeal can be filed within ten days for the matter to be reviewed by the existing Police Civil Service Commission.

Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty acknowledges it is a new concept in West Virginia and compares the effort to a “citizens bill of rights.”

“It is new in West Virginia, but that doesn’t mean it’s not needed or that it’s not important,” Fetty said,” I think we’re getting ahead of possible challenges and difficulties we may face in the future.”

Some members of the community have criticised the initiative because of the lack of an event, complaint or ongoing problems within the department.

“We’re not trying to create a body that overreaches, we’re trying to create a body that ensures we have the best police department we can,” Fetty said,” And that we’re all following the rules.”

Morgantown city attorney, Ryan Simonton has been working with staff attorneys at the West Virginia Attorney General’s office to facilitate an expedient review of the ordinance that would be produced by the committee.

“I did follow up with an attorney in the Attorney General’s office that worked on the letter, I believe,” Simonton said,” He offered to review any documents or proposals the city would send.”

According to Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty, it will be important to get the details of the proposed oversight structure to the public for comment.

“It would not be pragmatic to say we’re ready to vote on this,” Fetty said,” It’s really more about introducing it to the public, it’s about saying- this is coming and we want to hear from the community if they have comments.”