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We have to get this right: Committee discusses FOP review board concerns

Police oversight and review board ordinance in the works

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown City Councilor Zack Cruze said pushback from the Fraternal Order of Police and others over the city’s efforts to create a community policing advisory and review board is premature and problematic.

Cruze, who serves as the chairman of a special committee tasked with fleshing out an ordinance establishing the board, offered comments Monday during the committee’s regular weekly meeting.

“Given that the review board, what it would do and the powers it would have hasn’t even been established yet or come out, I am a bit concerned at how much pushback the Fraternal Order of Police and other individuals on social media have already started on this,” Cruze said. “It does seem very problematic to me that just the idea of a citizen review board is warranting a letter from the Fraternal Order of Police objecting to it without any details about what that even is.”

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87 counts 56 of Morgantown’s 64 officers as members. It took issue with a resolution passed by Morgantown City Council in support of creating the review board in the wake of recent national events.

“The resolution advises that the ‘National Crisis in American Policing has reached Morgantown.’ Our question to the committee is how has this reached Morgantown? What exactly is meant by this statement? Are they painting the Morgantown Police Department with a broad brush because of national incidents,” an FOP spokesperson told The Dominion Post. “We ask these questions because we are not aware of a single related incident that has occurred in Morgantown.”

The FOP also takes issue with the notion that citizens with no law enforcement training or experience be given a platform to steer department policy. Further, it states oversight is already in place in the form of the Police Civil Service Commission.

The resolution adopted by city council points out 18 recommended public safety improvements, including:

  • Establishing a diverse, qualified and trained volunteer Community Policing Advisory and Review Board to aid the city in policing practices, make recommendations for policy changes and investigate allegations of police misconduct
  • Reaffirming and augmenting the mission and operations of the police department
  • Striving to add enough racially and ethnically diverse officers to the police department to be at least proportional to the Morgantown population
  • Limiting the city’s participation in the Federal 1033 program that provides military equipment to local and state police and restrict use of the program for acquisition of military-grade weapons.
  • Establishing an arrangement with community agencies that enables those agencies to assist the police promptly when needed for follow-up on crisis situations, de-escalations, behavioral and mental health problems, and intoxication.

Some of Monday’s discussions focused on whether changes recommended  by the oversight board would ultimately fall under the review of city council.

Emily Kennedy, representing the ACLU of West Virginia, said a well-structured and representative board should be independent of city council.

“I would tend to think that the board would be the place where we would want to allow those decisions to be made  … There’s nothing about the makeup of the city council that says if they’re going to be representatives of the community in the way we’re trying to make this board representative,” Kennedy said. “We could very easily have city council change hands and the city council could undo everything that we’ve worked so hard to do.”

Interim City Manager Emily Muzzarelli disagreed, pointing out that council is the elected representatives of the citizens as well as the city’s policy-making body. She also cautioned that the special committee should not steer away from the goals spelled out in the resolution.

 “I understand the intent of having such a board. While I think it’s very important, I think we need to be very careful in toeing that line between the affirmation of community policing and the striving we’ve done so far as opposed to a very accusatory board that is trying to prohibit that positive affirmation and promoting that positive relationship between the community and the police,”  Muzzarelli said. “I think we’re veering off in that direction a little bit. I just want to make sure we’re sticking to the intent of the resolution that was passed.”

Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty said she would also want there to be oversight from elected officials, noting the seriousness of the review board’s mission.

“I really do think this is going to be the most significant board that we have … I think with this specific board, that we are dealing with human life and it is just critical that we assure the public that we are doing our very best to ensure this is an appropriate process so we can get community buy-in,” Fetty said, adding “We have to get this right.”