STATE POLICE MUST BE CALLED TO TASK - Legislators Must Do Their Job

(02/04/2002)

By Bob Weaver

Dave Moye, executive director of the West Virginia Troopers Association said "The whole organization of the State Police has broken down." We agree. The West Virginia Legislature needs to solve the State Police's breakdown, and ignore their powerful lobby.

Problems with the State Police show a lack of accountability to the public that continues to eat away trust and certainly their ability to "protect and serve." What a shame, when most of us desire to revere our police officers and the work they do.

In our little county we have yet to have life-threatening incidents as reported in other parts of West Virginia, but the behavior has been thugish, sometimes violent and often irresponsible.

A former state policeman said "It's hard to tell the cops from the bad guys," in some of these counties. Several prosecutors and judges have said, off the record, it is difficult to convict offenders in State Police cases.

Troopers in the agency seem to dictate policy, independent agents as such, and when they don't get their way, they sue, sue, sue. At the same time, when citizens are hurt and injured by the police and get little satisfaction, they sue, sue, sue. The millions of dollars are adding up, mostly at taxpayer expense.

The laundry list of police brutality and misconduct is getting longer and longer, including continued problems with the department's criminal investigation lab, from Fred Zain on down to a more current employee going to jail for improper testing.

The current movement by the West Virginia Troopers Association to unionize the agency needs to be stopped immediately. The organization continues to attack their administrative head, Col. Howard Hill for problems which permeate the rank and file, problems that rarely reach resolution.

There is a lack of accountability with troopers who behave badly, make serious mistakes or have drug and alcohol problems, evidenced around the state. Green-on-green misconduct investigations appear to violate human rights and constitutional guidelines. Troopers with critical problems return to the community, doing that which they did before. In the real world workplace, it would not happen.

A lack of communication by the State Police with the public reeks with political arrogance. One of dozens of FOIA's issued to the organization declined to release information regarding the recent "firing" of Braxton County Trooper M. A. Staley, even to confirm whether or not he is still working in the county.

Police problems are at a boiling point in Braxton County, with accusations about drug dealing and prostitution to sexual impropriety and harassment by local troopers. Sgt. John Bonazzo issued a "target list" with the names of eleven citizens who he says are "not to be given a break."

When The Hur Herald printed Trooper Staley had been "fired," some State Police officers and others said The Herald stated published wrong information. Because the State Police may have an adversarial relationship with The Herald and other newspapers, they constantly violate the FOIA law by not providing incident reports and not commenting on problems within the agency. The department will not disclose the numbers of misconduct complaints, let alone the names, filed against officers in Calhoun County or elsewhere, except when the agency is "under the hammer."

While I have empathy for those troopers who do a good job, the organization seems too far gone.

Only the West Virginia Legislature can correct the problem with major reorganization, possibly by dissolving the entire agency and starting over. One plan is to make the State Police a highway patrol, a system used in other states and fund county and local police agencies to provide local or regional law enforcement.

The failure of legislative leaders to deal with State Police problems has allowed problems to worsen.

We plead with our leaders to intervene and intervene now.


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