The office has jurisdiction over not just police, but nearly all government offices in state and local government, said William P. Angrick II, ombudsman for Iowa.
"When we get a complaint about local law enforcement ... we will ask the complainant to utilize the established or expected local internal mechanism, first. We will ask the complainant to talk to internal affairs, to raise it there first."
The office gets about 4,500 complaints annually from various departments, not just law enforcement, Angrick said.
'Nothing worse than a bad cop'
When the FBI hears about a potential civil rights violation by a police officer, the charge is taken very seriously, said Jay Bartholomew, supervisory special agent with the FBI in Charleston.
In addition to the Matthew Leavitt case, which sent the former Montgomery officer to jail, Bartholomew's office has been involved in another high-profile investigation into police misconduct in the past year.
On Dec. 2, former Dunbar Police officer Raymond O. Conley pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor civil rights violation for coercing a woman into having sex with him while he was on duty in exchange for dropping an illegally obtained drug charge against her.
But although such cases are a high priority, the FBI only has so many hours to devote to them, Bartholomew said.
"We are limited. We do have limited resources and there are still other high priority matters to address. We have no terrorism leads going unaddressed. Every one gets handled," Bartholomew said. "There are high priorities that compete for resources, like public corruption."
At the end of the day, the FBI is not a review agency, Bartholomew said.
"The majority of police officers are good guys," he said. "There's the presumption of innocence on anybody accused of a crime, and I think most juries give officers the benefit of the doubt, so you have to have some pretty solid evidence."
Investigations into police officers' actions in West Virginia are usually done internally or by the State Police. Bluefield is the only city in the state with any type of civilian review board.
In September 1998, Robert Ellison, a 20-year-old black man, was beaten and dragged by two white Bluefield police officers outside a nightclub, leaving him paralyzed below the neck, according to the report by the West Virginia Advisory Committee, "Coping with Police Misconduct."
Ellison settled a suit against the city in June 2000. The city agreed to pay him $1 million, increase its efforts to hire more minority police and establish a civilian panel to review police misconduct investigations.
"There's nothing worse than a bad cop," Bartholomew said. "Most of the chiefs of police out there want to get rid of a bad cop, they are more than willing to work with us. ... That goes for most cops. Ninety-nine percent are good guys. It's the 1 percent that aren't that tarnishes the badge. No self-respecting cop wants to pick up the newspaper and read about bad cops. That hurts us all."
'Less than 1 percent'
Of the approximately 3,500 police officers that work in West Virginia, very few run afoul of the rules.
"You're talking about a very small number, less than 1 percent. I think I would want the public to keep that in mind," said West Virginia State Police Sgt. Curtis Tilley, chairman of the LET and assistant director of training at the State Police training academy.
"Although these things make headlines, and make headlines understandably because police are in such a position of public trust, if you look at the number, it's still small, less than 1 percent. Ninety-nine percent are doing what they should be doing and that's what we hope the public remembers."
Adding police oversight will cut down on police lawsuits, said Roger Goldman, professor at the St. Louis University School of Law and an expert on police certification.
"Look at it from the perspective of big-time lawsuits - let's nip it in the bud a lot sooner and save taxpayers' money," he said. "The cost of one more lawsuit isn't worth the investment in a person's salary? Come on."
Jones, the ombudsman in Canada, said it's important that there be a division between police and whoever is overseeing them to keep the integrity of the process.
There are also special interest groups that want to be involved in police oversight, wanting to prosecute police for doing their jobs, he said. Both police and the special interest groups need to be kept out of the oversight process, he said.
"It all comes down to the integrity of the investigative process, that it's done thoroughly and objectively," Jones said. "In the end who gives a damn what the police think, what special interests think? It's what the public thinks that matters."
Reach Gary Harki at gha...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.