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A trooper review board?

September 29, 1998

Is there anyone who doesn't believe that when it comes to pleasing the public, police have an impossible job? We expect them to serve day-in and day-out, seeing humanity at its worst, and still retain the ability to treat us or our children as "innocent until proven guilty" when we're the subjects of a highway stop.

The best officers can do that, of course. It's those who treat citizens discourteously and use excessive force who are of concern to West Virginia officials, who met last week in Charles Town to discuss a proposed review board to complaints against state troopers.

Developed by Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, and supported by the West Virginia NAACP, the plan would create an eight-member board, including two citizens, for complaint reviews.

The West Virginia Troopers Association and the Jefferson County Prosecutors' office are wary of the proposal, with troopers saying it adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, while prosecutors worry defendants might use it to tie up court cases.

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We have several questions about this, including:

- Where's the evidence that the present system isn't working? James Tolbert, state NAACP president, recalled the Rodney King incident, but if there's been a civil rights violation of that magnitude in West Virginia, we're not aware of it. If complaints have been made and have gone unresolved, we'd like to hear about them.

- What's the cost going to be? The panel will need an investigator, its own attorney and everything else that goes with setting up a new agency. If 345 complaints are referred to this panel - the annual average now made against troopers - will there be time and money to do all of them justice?

- Manuel's proposal includes provisions to order polygraph tests, not now accepted as evidence in most courts. Will those troopers who refuse be subject to dismissal?

We agree with Del. John Doyle that citizen service on such a panel would probably increase citizens' understanding of what police do and why. But whether this is best way to give citizens that sort of education will require a little bit more research.

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