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State police review board discussed

September 23, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Local black leaders, state police officials and state lawmakers met here Wednesday to discuss forming a board to investigate complaints of alleged discourtesy and excessive force by the West Virginia State Police.

State police already have a mechanism for investigating complaints against troopers, but a new proposal supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would allow citizens to sit in judgment of police actions, officials said.

"I think we all remember a few years ago what happened to Rodney King," said James Tolbert, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

Tolbert said civil rights violations continue to happen here.

Tolbert said he supports the new review board "because people need it, people want it."

A proposal developed by Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, would set up an eight-member review board to look at complaints against troopers. Two members would be citizens, and the others would be state officials, including the state attorney general, state police superintendent and state human rights director.

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As part of their investigation, board members could order polygraph tests, said Manuel.

Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, said the proposal would "quietly raise the standards for everybody's behavior. The citizens need to feel safe."

She said that similar review boards need to be set up for municipal police departments.

A state trooper organization is opposed to the proposal.

Joe Adams, a local state police officer who represented the West Virginia Troopers Association at the meeting at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, said his organization feels the bill would add another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson said he is concerned about the complaint process being abused. Thompson said someone could file a complaint against a trooper to intentionally tie up a court case.

Under the current sys-tem operated by state police, any complaint against a trooper is sent to the state police superintendent in Charleston, W.Va., said Gordon Ingold, who oversees the agency's profes-sional standards program. The superintendent then determines who will investigate the complaint, Ingold said.

On average, the agency receives about 345 complaints a year about troopers, which is "relatively small compared to the number of contacts" officers make, said Ingold.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said participation on the board could increase understanding of what police do and why officers take particular actions in a criminal situation.

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