Coping with Police Misconduct in West Virginia: Citizen Involvement in Officer Disciplinary Procedures

Chapter 1


The West Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights presents this report on citizen involvement in the disciplinary process of law enforcement officers in West Virginia.

In May 2003, the Advisory Committee released its report, Civil Rights Issues in West Virginia, summarizing four issues raised by public officials, community advocates, and the public at the Committee’s three forums held between 1998 and 2000: (1) police-community relations, (2) treatment of minority students and students with disabilities in public schools, (3) civil rights issues related to employment, and (4) hate crimes.[1] Concerning police-community relations, the Committee observed that tensions between law enforcement agencies and minorities were exacerbated by incidents of police brutality, and the general public seemed to believe that existing procedures for overseeing police misconduct were ineffective.

Following the June 2003 presentation of the report’s conclusions by Chairperson Ranjit Majumder to the West Virginia legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Minority Issues, West Virginia House delegate Carrie Webster, a member of the Select Committee, on August 2, 2003, invited the Committee to share further insight on the problem of police misconduct in West Virginia. She suggested that the Committee prepare a background paper describing current methods of police officer discipline, and elaborate on new approaches or models from other parts of the country that could be considered for adoption in West Virginia.[2] Responding to her request, the Committee prepared a background paper addressing the above topics. It also elected to issue this report, which is based on the background paper, to make the information available to police officers, public officials, and the general public.

This report describes the ongoing problem of police brutality, and existing law and structure to address disciplinary issues (chapter 2); reviews past legislative attempts to reform disciplinary procedures and the experience of two recent review boards established in Bluefield and Charleston (chapter 3); and discusses alternative models and methods, such as accountability and incentive strategies, used successfully in other parts of the country (chapter 4).

[1] West Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), Civil Rights Issues in West Virginia, May 2003. In other publications, the Advisory Committee has reviewed police-community relations, police misconduct, and related issues. See Rising Racial Tensions in Logan County, West Virginia, August 1995, and Police-Community Relations in Southern West Virginia, March 1993.

[2] A copy of Delegate Webster’s Aug. 2, 2003, letter to chairperson Majumder is presented in appendix 1.