MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey recently wrote a letter to the Morgantown City Council members urging them to reconsider moves aimed at reforming the Morgantown Police Department (MPD) operations due to concern the efforts may run afoul of state law.
The Resolution Affirming and Strengthening Community Policing passed on Sept. 1 and calls for the creation of a Community Police Review and Advisory Board, but the city does not have the legal authority to enact any municipal ordinance relating to conduct investigations of complaints about the Morgantown Police Department, the AG wrote. He cited legal precedent in the state that does not give the city authority to do what they are aiming to accomplish. City Council Member Rachel Fetty said the council has seen the letter, which it takes seriously and has addressed it in their most recent council meeting.
I appreciate the Attorney General’s concerns and I recognize his desire to ensure that the laws of the state of West Virginia are applied appropriately throughout the state. I think, unfortunately, the letter itself is a bit unclear as to the ramifications or the specific issues that he is concerned about. Some of his comments are very general. I do think that it’s very important for us, as we consider his comments, to think about why we are doing what we are doing. Why did we pass our resolution, why are we working on creating a civilian review board? And I think he would be in more support of the general idea of these documents if he fully understood why we were trying to do it.Rachel Fetty – Morgantown City Council
The reason for this move, Fetty said, is because the council has received requests from constituents asking for the creation of a civilian oversight board for MPD. All council members agree that this move affirms their commitment to human rights and the safety of community members, she said.
The council is still in the middle of the process of creating the oversight and advisory board, which Fetty said is fortunately not being created because of a controversial police incident, as seen around the nation, that has happened. Instead, she said it is being created as a means to assure the public that their humanity will be respected if anything were to happen, the councilwoman said.
Fetty said the reform is not being made out of malice to MPD.
“I think it’s very important to be clear that our efforts on this committee are not reflective of any hostility, either hostility or disregard for the Morgantown Police Department,” Fetty said. “To the contrary, as a city, I think we have so much to be proud of in our police department and we are benefitting right now from the tremendous work that has been done over the past 10 years to really make sure that we have appropriate training, that our officers get the services that they need to provide the best services in our community. We are acting out of an abundance of caution to put in place a mechanism that will allow citizens to address concerns that they have with the police department in a way that will hopefully educate the police department and help us improve what I think are already excellent services.”
Fetty said she is hopeful that by doing this that the council can protect its city, constituents and also police officers who are critical members of the community. But Fetty said she recognized that in order to do so the city’s law must be in compliance with the state.
Therefore, the next move will be contacting the AG’s office to see how they can bring their resolution into compliance with state law, Fetty said.
“I think that’s immediately the plan,” Fetty said. “I think our council has a plan to reach out to the attorney general, to try to get more specific guidance and more specific information about their concerns. We certainly at our most recent meeting were taking the AG’s letter very seriously in terms of trying to figure out how we’re going to proceed, what areas we feel we can proceed on and working our way through the issues that are outstanding.”
Fetty said she is aware that not all members of the community are happy with the decision to create a Community Police Review and Advisory Board, but the entire process has been “completely transparent”. Citizens are welcome to join in on Zoom meetings and in fact their perspectives are very much so welcomed, the councilwoman said.
Plus, she added, the MPD chief of police and a member of the Fraternal Order of Police have all been part of the discussion. Fetty said they meet with them weekly, Monday at 3 p.m. and anyone can join them.