CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Meshea Poore has seen clients walk through her door, bruised and battered, with claims of police brutality.
Sometimes the stories are accurate, sometimes not, the Kanawha County public defender said.
Regardless, she said she often has nowhere to send them other than to the police.
Poore said her clients don't have the money to sue.
"They usually have to go to the law enforcement department of the officer [they're complaining about] and express their request to a co-worker of that officer," she said.
It puts both the police officer and the complainant in a bad situation.
When the actions of police officers in West Virginia are under scrutiny, it is fellow police officers who are most often charged with investigating them.
But in at least 120 municipalities across the nation that's not enough. Since the 1970s, cities have been setting up civilian review boards to address situations where police are otherwise left investigating fellow officers.
'To increase confidence in police'
Most large cities in the United States, nearly all with populations greater than 500,000, have civilian review boards, said Philip Eure, president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
"So much of this movement is to increase the confidence in police. If I'm doing my job as an oversight agency, then that should be consistent with the objectives of the police," said Eure, who is also director of the District of Columbia Office of Complaints - Washington's police civilian review board.
Of the 20 largest cities in the United States, only three do not have some type of civilian review of police. And in one of those cities - Jacksonville, Fla. - community leaders are pushing to have one put in place, according to the Florida Times-Union newspaper.
Small cities throughout the country have also been implementing review boards, Eure said.
"The next generation of growth that we hear about all the time is in cities of similar size to Charleston," he said.
In most communities, when police do something wrong, nothing happens, said Dr. Samuel Walker, the author of the 2005 book "The New World of Police Accountability" and an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska.
"There is no mechanism, except for really egregious violations of civil rights. So, for routine, low-level use of force, discourtesy, racial incidents, where do you go?" he asked.
"Accountability is an essential part of democratic forms of government. When some agency does something wrong, people should have a place to go to express their grievance and get it resolved."
Two men dead
Two disparate incidents recently in the local news - Roger Wolfe's police brutality settlement and the shooting of Brian Good and Charleston Patrolman Jerry Jones - highlight what happens when police are in charge of investigating their own.