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Area legislators backing police review board

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- Two Harrison County legislators said Thursday they are basically supportive of the idea of creating a statewide review board for police personnel.

Delegate Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley, made a passionate call for a State Police review board on the House floor Thursday. Faircloth cited several incidents, including the alleged beating of a Welch man and the death of a woman in a high-speed chase, as indicators of the need for such a board.

Faircloth said such incidents undermine public confidence in the West Virginia State Police and cost the state dearly in settlement payments to victims.

"A few bad actors have caused the many outstanding individuals in the State Police to have their reputations placed on the same plateau as used car salesmen," he said. "We owe it to the good troopers to give them 100 percent support."

The state had to pay a $750,000 settlement in the high-speed chase death, and faces the prospect of a multimillion-dollar settlement in the Welch incident, Faircloth said.

"We legislators are responsible for the Board of Risk Management that pays these bills," he said.

"With each settlement, premiums go up for county governments and school boards and everybody else who participates. It affects each of us and our respective districts."

Delegates Barbara Warner and Frank Angotti Jr., both Harrison Democrats, said a review board is a good idea.

"You have good and bad people in all organizations," Warner said. "Part of the problem is that we've trained so many new people in the past few years. The ones who are inexperienced are the ones who get in trouble."

Warner added that she believes the state needs to improve the pay scale for troopers during their early years on the force because many good officers leave for more lucrative jobs.

Angotti said he thinks State Police Superintendent Gary Edgell responds quickly and thoroughly to allegations of misconduct by troopers, but a review board for all police personnel might boost public confidence in law enforcement.

"Last year we had legislation to create a review board that would look into complaints on a city, county and state level. It didn't pass out of committee," Angotti said. "Good officers will probably want this because it will protect them if it is passed. If people in Harrison County want it, I'll be more than happy to vote for it."

Angotti emphasized that in Clarksburg, complaints against city police officers can be reviewed by the city manager, City Council, the chief of police and the Clarksburg Police Civil Service Commission.

"There are people overseeing law enforcement, but if we can improve those mechanisms, I have no problem with that," he said.

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