By Joe Nelson
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The City of Morgantown is the first West Virginia municipality approve the establishment of a Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board.
City Council unanimously approved the ordinance during its regular meeting Tuesday night. In passing the ordinance, Morgantown will now have a citizen run board, appointed by council, that’s responsibilities range from reviewing internal investigations to citizen outreach.
“Basically it’s a nine member board, and the authority that has been granted under this ordinance, is to primarily to review policies and procedures of the police department,” explained Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney ahead of the vote on WAJR’s Talk of the Town. “Generally related to recruitment and increasing diversity,” he said.
The ordinance establishing the Morgantown Citizens Police Review Board, has been in the making for several months but is a very pared down version of the proposal that was critiqued by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The approved version was the result of a meeting involving City Manager Kim Haws, Police Chief Eric Powell and representatives of the special committee that held dozens of meetings crafting the ordinance.
“I think that the logic of what the police chief was saying is what impacted the big shift if you will,” explained Dulaney. “I think that what he presented made sense to the members of the group that were working on this, and I think we all realized that we could meet our objective,” he said.
Several aspects of the original proposal, were changed ahead of the approval Tuesday evening. Removed from the ordinance is the power to conduct investigations, receiving complaints directly as well as the ability to interview police officers. The board will be able to review evidence, question witnesses and request further information from the chief of police only after an internal investigation is completed.
“I think in the end the breakthrough really was our ability to sit down with the police chief, facilitate a direct conversation,” said Dulaney. “Because I think the police chief really helped us, who were working on the committee, understand how our goals could be met in a more effective way,” he said.
While the most controversial aspects of the ordinance were cut from the approved ordinance a legal challenge is coming.
Teresa Toriseva, who represents the Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police, told WAJR News a lawsuit could be filed as early as Wednesday challenging the ordinance. Toriseva maintains that despite the changes, the ordinance undermines West Virginia Civil Service law.
“We understand that the Fraternal Order of Police may have different ideas, but I do think it was basically being able to sit down in a room together and have a direct conversation,” said Dulaney reflecting on the ordinance’s development. “And really all parties being open to listening to what was being said and being open to continuing to work through this to a way that is more satisfactory with everyone,” he said.