CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two requests for investigations into what happened to a Princeton police officer who says he was beaten into unconsciousness during a training session at the West Virginia State Police Academy highlight a missing piece of the state's criminal justice system-- the lack of police oversight, experts say.
Having an in-place system to deal with allegations of police misconduct gives the public much greater confidence in their law enforcement officers, said Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review.
The review board is a civilian oversight board for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, the largest sheriff's department and the seventh-largest law enforcement agency in the country.
Princeton Officer Christopher Winkler and his family say two academy trainers beat him during baton training on April 5. Winkler's mother, Pamela McPeak, said an instructor told her he saved her son's life when he pulled two other trainers off Winkler after they continued to beat him while he was unconscious.
"If this happened here, we would make sure to report on the outcome and make sure that it was a fair and effective investigation," Gennaco said.
Special investigations can address a single issue, but don't address the broader issue of the need for police accountability, he said.
"They end up being ad hoc and less efficient than an entity that is in place on a full-time basis," Gennaco said. "They need to get up to speed on police policies and training. It creates inefficiencies you don't have with a permanent oversight group that's already up to speed."
At least 120 municipalities across the United States have set up civilian review boards to address situations where police are otherwise left investigating fellow officers. Of the 20 largest cities in the United States, at least 17 have some type of civilian review of police.
On Tuesday, Gov. Joe Manchin called for an independent panel to investigate what happened to Winkler. State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy S. Pack issued a statement Tuesday saying an initial investigation by his agency shows that Winkler didn't receive any direct hits to the head or neck. In the statement, Pack said the training was immediately halted when it became apparent that Winkler was in distress.
There are lots of examples of police setting up investigatory panels to look into allegations of egregious police misconduct, said Philip Eure, president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement and head of Washington, D.C.'s, Office of Complaints.
"It's one way to inspire greater confidence in the process, by creating a wholly independent panel made up of private citizens," Eure said. "Obviously, you want people with knowledge and expertise in use-of-force issues and with knowledge of policing."