MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mayor Jenny Selin is looking forward to seating the nine members of the Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board even after some key powers were eliminated.
Selin said last week on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town” it was disheartening the board will not be a part of investigations or make recommendations, but she said the board will move forward with the basic intended purpose- to engage with the police department.
“Reviewing agency policies, making recommendations, collecting data and conducting public outreach sessions,” Selin said. “The idea is that this would a be a partnership and a collaboration between civilians who are interested in this subject and the police department.”
Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker ruled against the board last December in a case filed by the local Fraternal Order of Police saying the duties would interfere with the established Police Review Commission and civil service law that dictates personnel law for police and firefighters.
Morgantown City Manager Kim Haws said the new agreement, that received council approval last Tuesday night, would remove the complaint and investigation process that is given to the board in the ordinance.
“This would include such activities by the review board of investigations and interviewing witnesses prior to the Morgantown police chief making a decision,” Haws said.
The ordinance sets the board at nine members appointed by city council that are residents of the city or an active member of a Morgantown-based organization consistent with the purpose of the Board. Additionally, six board members will be selected from exclusive communities- three members will be from historically disadvantaged communities or residents of public housing that have received discordant treatment from police and three others are to be appointed by organizations that seek social justice.
“We’ve already interviewed way more participants than we need,” Selin said. “So, the first thing that will happen is council will review all of the candidates and we will appoint the board.”
Selin sees the board as vehicle to improve transparency between the police and minority communities while enhancing public safety in the entire community.
“This was a way we could move forward and we could get to it right now,” Selin said. “We won’t have one of the components that was desired, but we will have that back-and-forth that was the main point of having a police review board.”
Former Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said he maintains contact with some of his former officers and said there is concern within the ranks. Preston said police officers are professionally trained and typically do not quit the job- they quit people and when employees have to fight for basic rights they will leave.
“Fireman, policemen and city employees should not have to sue their employers, or should not have to seek legal counsel to have their legal problems taken care of,” Preston said.
Preston said staffing and morale issues can result in injuries to civilians and officers because of their inability to properly respond. According to Preston, the Morgantown Police Department is short five officers right now, but that number is really 21 because five officers were cut during his tenure.
Morgantown firefighters have had to take the city to court over a holiday back pay issue and allegations of retaliation. Police have been in legal battles with the city to stop the police review board and are currently in a lawsuit asking the city to release the taxpayer funded Wage and Compensation study completed by GovHR.
“Whether it’s retaliation or not, it sure has the appearance of retaliation,” Preston said. “In Particular with the firefighter situation.”