MORGANTOWN — The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87, to which the vast majority of Morgantown Police officers belong, has taken exception to the city’s efforts to create a community policing advisory and review board.
Now the state’s top cop has followed suit, warning Morgantown City Council that its efforts could run afoul of state code.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued a letter to city officials this week, explaining that only the Police Civil Service Commission has the authority to investigate allegations that could lead to punitive action.
This is the primary point being raised by FOP Lodge 87.
The Police Civil Service Commission is comprised by three civilians, one chosen by the chamber of commerce, one chosen by the city and one chosen by FOP Lodge 87.
“This commission provides for public oversight in use of force situations, hiring and firing procedures and is used to appeal internal discipline decisions. We again ask the proponents of the Resolution to identify a single instance where the Morgantown Police Civil Service Commission has failed the community in any way,” an FOP spokesperson told The Dominion Post.
According to Morrisey, cities lack the legal authority to create any separate police or law enforcement review boards that would weigh in on issues like hiring practices and conduct investigations based on allegations.
Morrisey wrote, “The Office of the Attorney General is of the opinion that the Morgantown City Council does not have the legal authority to enact any municipal ordinance purporting to conduct investigations of complaints relating to members of the Morgantown Police Department, as any such ordinance would conflict with the provisions of W.Va. Code.”
A resolution passed by Morgantown City Council in support of creating such a review board lists 18 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.
A special committee has been meeting regularly to flesh out the ordinance that would create the oversight and review board and its duties, which, according to the draft used during its last meeting, would include the investigation of claims — using means up to and including subpoena — which could result in officer hearings.
Even so, Morgantown Communication Manager Andrew Stacy has said there have been discussions about the board’s ability to recommend discipline, “but ultimately that would not be their decision,” as that authority would be retained solely by the chief of police.
Further, Stacy notes Morgantown Police Interim Chief Eric Powell has participated in the process from the beginning.