MORGANTOWN — Morgantown Interim Police Chief Eric Powell said he believes there is an acceptable middle ground between the special committee looking into the creation of a community police review and advisory board and the city’s law enforcement community.
Powell spoke at length during a Monday meeting of the special committee.
“I think the idea of this and officer acceptance of this, there’s really not as big a chasm or gap that might have been portrayed or thought,” he said. “I think it’s really easy to come to an acceptable middle ground when it comes to what this eventually turns out to be. I think it’s not that far off.”
Powell said the concerns shared by officers are the same concerns expressed by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who reviewed the draft ordinance that would create the body and offered comment in the form of a letter earlier this month.
Morrisey noted Morgantown’s proposed police review board would violate sections of state law that require such complaints and any other matters that may result in punitive action against a police officer to be investigated and adjudicated through the city’s Police Civil Service Commission.
He also argued state law does not provide cities the ability to grant such authority to a separate entity, even to hold hearings or issue recommended actions.
If adopted, the nine-person board could audit existing Morgantown Police Department policies and procedures and make recommendations, hold public meetings and take input from the public and receive, review, investigate and hold hearings on civilian complaints.
Powell said he would welcome additional oversight and an additional venue through which citizens can express concerns, but he doesn’t support the investigation of officers outside the civil service commission.
“I just feel like there’s an undercurrent of disciplinary procedures and investigations and a jumping to the conclusion that when that person files a complaint, then that’s a sure indicator there’s problem within the police department,” he said.
“I think the process we have in place right now we are following is a pretty thorough process to begin with. And adding to that process seems a little heavy handed and maybe a little excessive when it’s viewed from the person that it’s happening to.”
The Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police, which represents nearly all of Morgantown’s officers, has said it will sue if such a review board is created.