An attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #87 sent a letter to the Morgantown City Council on Tuesday opposing a proposed police review board ordinance and promising immediate legal action if it becomes city code.
Nearly all Morgantown Police Department officers who would be affected by the board are members of the lodge.
“It has become clear the City of Morgantown intends to violate West Virginia law by passing an ordinance creating a Citizens’ Police Review Board,” wrote Wheeling attorney Teresa Toriseva in the letter.
In an email to West Virginia Public Broadcasting on Tuesday, Dulaney said the town does not have a direct response to the letter but welcomes the input.
“We have already shared publicly the process we, as a special committee of city council, … have planned, which by design includes ongoing public participation open to all stakeholders and viewpoints, to consider the issue of civilian police oversight in Morgantown,” wrote Dulaney. “We accept the letter from the FOP’s attorney as a contribution to that process.”
In the letter, Toriseva called the board unnecessary because the department already operates to the “highest standard.”
Specifically, she cited the department’s current use of force policy, annual implicit bias and de-escalation training, a choke-hold ban and the use of body cameras.
Advocates for the proposed board agree with and support all of these practices but say the police department can be even better.
“This is about being proactive,” said Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney at last week’s city council meeting. “This is about creating great transparency. It is about involving citizens in policing and really protecting the safety of everyone in our community going forward.”
Toriseva questioned the legality of the proposed board and its investigative powers. In September, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wrote the city council a letter with similar concerns.
State law creates a Civil Service Commission for each paid police department. This three-person commission oversees all hiring, firing and discipline.
Advocates say the proposed board’s investigative powers would not infringe on this oversight, because it would only be able to make recommendations.
The letter from the FOP’s attorney said the proposed ordinance would violate state law and cited Morrisey’s September letter in questioning whether cities had the authority to create such a board.
“That is a question that will likely only be resolved by our State Supreme Court of Appeals,” wrote Toriseva. “But even if cities can create these boards (admittedly this question is clear), they certainly cannot violate civil service provisions in doing so.”