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Police Review Board aims to improve dialogue between police, business community

MORGANTOWN — A large percentage — even a majority — of the calls police officers respond to are not violent crimes, or even necessarily criminal activity of any kind. 

They’re requests for assistance — businesses calling about unwanted loitering; citizens concerned about suspicious behavior.  

During Thursday’s meeting of the Morgantown Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board, the body discussed the modern reality of police officers as catch-all first responders and how it can help facilitate communication between the city’s police and, specifically, the business community. 

The discussion comes with the backdrop of a recent case study in which the board discussed a 2021 incident involving a trespassing call from the downtown Sheetz that resulted in officers wrestling a resisting woman to the ground to get her into custody.

Board Chair Richard Burks said he believes the approach to these types of calls can be addressed. 

“Just because a business calls the police does not necessarily mean there’s been a crime committed. I think it’s important that when law enforcement does arrive on site, the first thing they figure out is, ‘Is there a crime committed that I need to investigate.’ If there’s not, then [police] are doing the bidding of the business,” he said, later adding, “It’s a difficult situation and it’s hard to have a hard-and-fast rule, but the one hard-and-fast rule that we all have is our Constitutional rights.” 

Board member Rachel Fetty agreed but countered that a lot of businesses in town are forced to confront challenges that they don’t invite upon themselves and aren’t really equipped to deal with.

She said a business in need of assistance really only has one option.

“If we don’t take into consideration the way things are right this second – which is it doesn’t matter what kind of crisis it is, the police are always going to be the first people there – then I think we’re overlooking a big part of the negative dynamic,” Fetty said.  “I don’t think that’s their goal or what they want to do. That’s just what they do. That’s what we rely on them to do. I don’t know who else a business would call.” 

Board members suggested organizing a forum to bring members of the business community together with representatives from the police department. 

“Maybe it is our job to facilitate those conversations between businesses and the police department. How do we remove a situation where someone who really isn’t doing anything results in an arrest,” board member Catherine Fonseca asked. “Because without the call from Sheetz to the police … I guess the question is how do we avoid that situation?”