Editor's Note: A civilian review board has been proposed numerous times before the WV legislature for years, vigorously fought back by the WV State Police.

Such a board is likely the only solution to bring the agency back into reasonable performance, from top to bottom.

While most officers are honest and reasonable performers, the internal system of "green on green" is destructive, and has done little to bring professional supervision to the agency.

With the enormous influence exerted by the agency against review, it is highly unlikely such a move will be made. - Bob Weaver



By Gary Harki
Staff writer

In West Virginia, allegations of police misconduct, such as the alleged beating of Charleston lawyer Roger Wolfe, are investigated by police themselves.

However, there has been an effort by some, including at least one state lawmaker, to change that.

The creation of a citizen review board to look at complaints of police wrongdoing would help curb abuse, said Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson.

I think where this is in place, police managers end up doing a better job disciplining their own people," he said. "Just knowing that they have a review board to answer to usually does the trick."

Doyle said he has introduced bills in the Legislature to create a review board for at least the past six years, only to see them go nowhere.

Doyle's proposal called for the board to have at least five members with membership spread out all over the state. They would meet quarterly and would be paid, like many other state quasi-voluntary boards, $150 per meeting, Doyle said.

Many states and most large cities have some type of police review board, he said.

"We are not talking about something anyone would to do make a living," Doyle said. "You might want to require a percentage of the board have law enforcement experience but you would also want some who haven't to get the true citizen's perspective."

The state Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has advocated for a police review board since the early 1990s, said lawyer and Fairmont State University professor Gregory Hinton. Hinton, a former mayor of Fairmont, served more than 20 years on the commission, including two terms at its chairman.

"My feeling is that there is abusive behavior in every profession, whether it is newspaper reporting, police, lawyers, what have you," he said. "The problem I see is a code of silence."

A 2004 report issued by the advisory committee documents instances of abuse by police going back to 1997 and recommends the creation of a review board.

"I think with a citizen review board you don't have to worry about a code of silence," Hinton said. "You have people look at it and give it as much objectivity as possible. ... Frankly a citizen review board might deter this kind of conduct in the first place."

Doyle said he is in favor of citizens' review boards for all police in the state but that a good start would be a setting up a board for the West Virginia State Police.

I do buy the idea that if we force this on local governments it's an unfunded mandate," he said. "I brought it up again this year. It never has any chance of getting on the agenda."

A part of the reason for that is that in the past, the State Police have strongly opposed it, Doyle said.

"I am sorry they have done that and I think they are wrong. Usually I am a strong supporter on things they want. On this we disagree," Doyle said.

Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jim Spears said the issue has not been brought before him.

"We are open to suggestions for how to make our system the best it can be," he said. "We are open to considering any suggestions."

It would be important to have the review board outside of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, which is over the State Police, Doyle said.

"There is a chance that it would just get co-opted," he said. "You might have it in say, the Department of Health and Human Resources."

There would probably need to be some full-time staff, Doyle said.

"Now 95 percent of our state troopers are first-rate people. But every now and then you get a bad apple, as happens in any organization," Doyle said. "And there is a tendency among some managers in police to let things go a little too long before there is discipline."

At public hearings held by the civil rights advisory committee, complaints about law enforcement were a constant, Hinton said.

I want to make it clear that I think most police officers are good and respectable. But the ones that are bad are very bad," Hinton said. "Rabbi [Abraham Joshua] Heschel said, 'Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself.' I would agree with that."