MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board has completed a review of their first case with the Morgantown Police Department.

When the committee was first formed, it was to have investigative powers, but after a suit was filed by the members of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #87, that authority was removed and replaced with the power to review matters and offer suggestions.

Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker ruled investigative powers would be a violation of state civil service law, which gives those powers exclusively to the Police Civil Service Commission.

Board member Megan Gandy raised questions about an arrest on August 30, 2021, at the Sheetz location downtown on University Avenue.

Gandy had questions about the response when she witnessed four police cruisers in the parking lot and officers interacting with a black female who appeared to be upset.

“I think it was extremely informative; there was a lot of really good feedback and back-and-forth,” police chief Eric Powell said. “I think it was very productive and positive.”

Committee chairman Rich Burks said the first case review was a good experience for the board.

“I thought it was a fruitful meeting—we had questions and he had answers,” Burks said. “He volunteered a lot of information that will help us, and it goes a long way in helping us discharge our responsibility.”

Powell said there were good questions posed by the board, and he feels that will lead to a better understanding for the police and community. Board members sharing their experiences and knowledge could be another way to improve relations with the public.

“A couple of the board members said the initial responding officer did a pretty good job with respect to his response and his attempts to de-escalate the situation and bring it to a peaceful resolution,” Powell said.

One of the voting questions focused on the code of conduct and whether those policies are enforced consistently across the board. Following a set of standard orders keeps the officer focused on procedure and proper response.

“One of our concerns was that when they hear a particular type of call, does that dictate how they interact with the public when they do respond to that call?” Burks said.

One change that has been made as a result of the board’s work is easy access to the civilian complaint regarding a police response on the website. Before, residents had to get the form from the Public Safety Building on Spruce Street; now it is more prominently displayed on the police department website.

In Morgantown, police officers complete annual implicit bias and de-escalation training and are equipped and trained to use less lethal options. Choke-holds are considered deadly force and are never considered a means to gain compliance.

“We always try to take steps to do better through training and other things, and I think that message got across,” Powell said. “I think they understood it and appreciated it.”