The Charleston Gazette-Mail on Nov. 25 on how West Virginia State Police deals with use-of-force and trooper misconduct accusations:
Two reports in the Gazette-Mail over the past few days have detailed how the West Virginia State Police deals with use-of-force and trooper misconduct accusations, and the overall picture is disturbing.
Examining four years of records between 2014 and 2019 (it would be five, but, for some reason, the State Police didn’t document its Early Identification System reports for 2017) shows a pattern of troopers undergoing an internal investigation for incidents ranging from wrongful death, excessive force and sexual assault, and being cleared — even when a review finds it likely they committed a crime.
Discipline seemingly only occurs after public awareness is raised regarding the trooper in question. And the public typically only becomes aware if there is a large legal settlement over the matter or if a video of something like the beating of a suspect is released.
Over the past five years, the State Police paid $3.1 million in lawsuit settlements and $400,000 in legal fees. All of that is taxpayer money.
It’s true that complaints against state troopers have decreased quite a bit over the past 20 years, but there are still officers who rack up multiple complaints over seriously reckless, sometimes life-threatening behavior and go back to their job cleared by an internal investigation.
The State Police has framed such instances involving the same trooper as “outliers,” but that doesn’t excuse one improper use of force or abuse of power, let alone several. West Virginians should be able to rely on state troopers to respond to incidents in a level-headed, professional manner. That’s not what happened when troopers savagely beat a 16-year-old in Martinsburg last year. That’s not what happened when a trooper shot and killed a teenager in 2014 after the officer had been looking for teens who had been on his property and allegedly thrown wet underwear on his cruiser. That’s not what happened when a trooper in 2017 allegedly raped a woman after arresting her boyfriend.
And why should troopers be concerned about their conduct if they know they’ll face a review board that will clear them?
Maybe there’s no foolproof way to completely rid any law enforcement agency of officers who will abuse their power, but the State Police review system as it exists almost invites it.
Bringing in another agency to externally investigate these incidents is one place to start. Holding troopers accountable with an effective deterrent and taking action before one trooper becomes involved in multiple incidents would reduce misconduct even further, possibly even preventing misconduct in the first place.
The taxpayers should also see how much of their money is being spent to settle these cases. Yes, the settlements are public record, but there’s no way to see them unless you know where to look or it gets picked up by the news media. Maybe the West Virginia Board of Risk and Insurance Management, which keeps the data for all legal damages or settlements paid out by any state agency, should put them online.
Keeping all of this in house isn’t working. Independent investigations and transparency over legal settlements can only help bring more accountability.
Municipalities are missing out on millions in taxes
The Journal of Martinsburg on Nov. 25 on how towns and cities in West Virginia may be missing out on millions of dollars a year in taxes and fees:
Towns and cities in West Virginia may be missing out on millions of dollars a year in taxes and fees that should be paid by contractors performing jobs for the state, legislators were told last week.
Many out-of-state contractors working on state projects are not registering with municipalities where the jobs are being done, lawmakers were told by a legislative auditor. By not registering, the contractors avoid paying local taxes.
Since 2017, state officials have required that all contractors insist their subcontractors register with town and city governments. But at present, there is no guarantee that is done, because state government does not inform municipalities when contracts for work within their limits are let.
Common courtesy would suggest that officials in Charleston inform local government officials of such contracts. Apparently they do not.
It was suggested to legislators that they should enact a law requiring such notifications. They should do that to help towns and cities guard against unscrupulous contractors.