Morgantown council approves court ordered changes to police oversight board

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The City of Morgantown’s Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board will have some changes made to how they’ll conduct their business.

An ordinance unanimously approved by Morgantown City Council Tuesday, made several changes to the originally passed statute by Council back in 2020, that established the powers of the Civilian Police Review Board. These changes, are focused on the board’s ability to hold investigations on complaints made against officers and the definition of “misconduct” in the text of the law.

“It’s intended to make sure that the ordinance, on the city’s books, looks like the ordinance as agreed to in the settlement and as ordered by the court,” said Morgantown City Attorney Ryan Simonton on the new ordinance.

The ordinance that revises the powers of the Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board, was made in response to a court order in late 2021 made in response to a lawsuit filed by the Monongalia-Preston Fraternal Order of Police. The original ordinance, as written was ruled on by Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker, she pointed out the state’s police civil service commission is already established to perform the same function.

“It was an issue that has been resolved, with court action, action on your part and action on the interest groups that are involved,” said State Senate Candidate Mike Oliverio as part of the public portion of the meeting. “And I think it’s positive that a resolution has come to pass with this,” he said.

Despite the court ordered settlement, local organizations such as the NAACP pointed out their concerns about the board’s ability to properly discuss concerns over law enforcement. This was further emphasized by members of Morgantown City Council who pointed out criticisms of the board membership, which includes no members of law enforcement, either retired or current, on the a civilian based police review board.

“We have a police civil service commission, which allows for former police officers and family of police officers serve on it,” said Morgantown City Councilor Brian Butcher on the ordinances design. “This board was envisioned in this way by members of our community,” he said.

While the Morgantown Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board remains intact, it will remain as a strictly policy discussion based board with no disciplinary or investigatory powers. With the board officially under state guidelines, members of Council pointed out the growing issue of dwindling ranks of the Morgantown Police Department, which is now down at least 20 officers. The goal now, for some members of council, is to address employment concerns of the Morgantown Police Department, as well as other departments (mainly the Morgantown Fire Department) who have had concerns about policy changes for city employees..

“Since we came onto Council about a year ago, many have been focused on seeing through the creation of the review board,” said Morgantown Deputy Mayor Danielle Trumble. “Now that that’s done, I feel that we are not paying nearly enough attention to retaining and recruiting officers and other high quality workers,” she said.

Council also approved the construction of seating expansion at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Park Amphitheater. The project is expected to cost approximately $327,000.