Morgantown considers community policing & citizens review board

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The City of Morgantown is moving forward with the creation of an independent review board of incidents involving police officers.

During a meeting of the Special Committee of Community Policing and Citizens Review Board Monday morning, a decision was made to begin the process of creating an independent community policing commission which will make separate reccomendations on police discipline separate from investigations made internally by the Morgantown Police Department.

“The review board again will be able to reccomend discipline, a chief or mayor could take that disciplinary action and take that reccomendation,” said ACLU West Virginia Representative Eli Baumwell. “The officer would still have the right to an appeals process through the civil service commission,” he said.

In the event of a complaint involving police officers and their use of excessive force, power or unprofessionalism, this committee would compile it’s own independent investigation. This would include holding hearings of those involved in said incident and an internal review of the incident at hand, the findings discovered and dicussions of recommended discipline. These reccomendations would then be submitted to the Mayor and Chief of Police to take further action on.

“The review board are going to take their information, make it public so the public understands why they’re making their decision and provide it to the mayor and the chief,” said Baumwell elaborating on the proposal. “They can then compare that to an internal review, they can make their decisions, that way there’s more transparency,” he said.

A seperate review will still be conducted by the Morgantown Police Department in the event of a complaint being filed against an officer. This independent review, would still follow their normal protocol which would involve the Chief of Police, other high ranking officers, and the officer under investigation, which according to Interim Chief Eric Powell, takes about three to four weeks. Any findings in dispute, can be appealled through the Civil Service Commission that was established by the city in years past. During Monday’s disussions, Powell encouraged cooperation between the investigative groups, so that information that can be discussed without violating the Freedom of Information Act can be, as findings are discovered from each review board.

“I know that this ordinance is asking for us to be able to look at things as they come in on the police side of things, it does makes sense to me that some of that reciprocity could be put in there, in a sort of coordinating efforts,” said Board Member Dr. Jerry Carr agreeing with that aspect being added.

As of this writing, the history of the Morgantown Police Department regarding incidents of police misconduct has been fortunately very light. Despite an incident between WVU students and Morgantown Police in 2019 that through investgations found no misconduct from the officer. However, not far away from Morgantown, Westover Police are dealing with a lawsuit stemming from a January 2019 incident where Andre Howton was shown to be assaulted by police via body cameras. While Morgantown Police’s reputation is solid in comparison to neighboring departments, there is a mutual desire between the board and members of Morgantown PD to keep things as transparent as possible regarding any case of misconduct.

“I don’t think the Human Rights Commission for example examines whether time cards are an issue in certain cases so I don’t expect that to be an argument here as well,” said Dr. Carr.