The Morgantown City Council heard a presentation on a proposed ordinance to create a civilian police review and advisory board at a workshop meeting Tuesday night. If approved, the proposed board would be the second of its kind in West Virginia.
Over the past seven months, a special committee has gathered input from experts on police reform along with a variety of Morgantown city leaders and community members.
“We went section by section and we had a room of people in there,” said Jerry Carr, president of the Morgantown/Kingwood Branch of the NAACP. “We discussed it, we debated it, we argued sometimes. And then when we were done with a particular section we’d move onto the next one.”
The nine-member Morgantown board would review and make recommendations on police department procedures and practices, begin community outreach and investigate civilian complaints of police misconduct.
Bluefield has a similar review board stemming from a 2000 consent decree but with weaker investigation.
In September of last year, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey sent the Morgantown City Council a letter questioning the legality of the investigation powers in the proposed ordinance.
Members of the special committee have since changed the language of the proposal and believe it complies with state law.
The process would start with a civilian complaint filed with the board. Then, the board would investigate and the officers involved would present their case.
If, at the end of all that, the board determines that misconduct occurred, it would give the police chief a recommendation.
As required by state law, the police chief retains the authority to implement any disciplinary action.
Mayor Ron Dulaney stressed at Tuesday’s meeting that the proposed ordinance was proactive and praised the past work of the Morgantown Police Department in implementing de-escalation training and a choke-hold ban.
West Virginia University professor and criminal justice expert Jim Nolan spoke during Tuesday’s meeting in support of the proposal.
He cited a 2009 statewide study from the West Virginia Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center that found Black drivers were 1.58 times more likely to be stopped by a police officer than white drivers in Morgantown.
The study also found Black drivers were 2.27 times more likely to be searched by police.
“This is not the result of bad actors,” said Nolan. “Discrimination in policing is systemic. We all need to work together to fix it.”
The proposed board would create a level of transparency and community trust in the police force, said Carr.
“We have a police force, they do a lot of good in the city but we know there’s ways that we can improve upon that process,” said Carr “And we’re looking for a structured way for civilians to have that input to make that happen.”
Next, the language of the proposed ordinance will be sent to the West Virginia Attorney General’s office for review.