Bluefield City Attorney Brian Cochran said the board still functions.
"The main benefit is it's an avenue to protect our citizens if they are not satisfied with an internal investigation," he said.
Review board methods
There is a range of civilian oversight models that fit into two overlapping groups, said Philip Eure, president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement and head of Washington, D.C.'s, Office of Complaints.
The first are investigator-type models that have a separate staff with civilian investigators, often lawyers, who investigate complaints of police misconduct.
"This is the traditional model. They have professional staffs separate from the police department. Sometimes they have a board that works in connection with them," he said.
The second type are auditor or monitor models, which don't do their own investigation of cases but review investigations done by police and issue reports based on their reviews of investigations. These models are cheaper to run, Eure said.
"They don't have the resources to redo every case; they pick and choose cases," he said. "They've been in vogue the last several years."
There are all sorts of hybrids of those models, he said.
Dr. Samuel Walker, the author of the 2005 book "The New World of Police," favors the auditor model because, he says, they are better at looking at and fixing problems at their core. Auditor models are better at fixing the problems with training and management, he said. Walker believes too often investigator models end up blaming individual officers for systemic problems.
"If you look at individual complaints, if that's what its set up to do, it can make an officer the scapegoat," Walker said. "He gets blamed, but in reality, it's a management failure."
Eure said that there is no one-size-fits-all model for police review. And he admits that in very small departments, it's not practical to set up a board.
In smaller cities, the investigatory work often gets contracted out with an attorney, even if someone is not hired fulltime, he said.
"If you are serious about having an objective investigation and having the public perception be that the investigation is being conducted in an objective way, then you have to outsource the investigation," Eure said.
Establishing civilian review boards is not about condemning law enforcement, said Meshea Poore, a Kanawha County public defender. It's about the public being able to fully trust law enforcement - even when there are accusations of brutality or wrongdoing by officers.
"I think we should always know what happened with the police," she said. "The purpose is we need to know. We need to be able to review and go back and see what went wrong so we don't make the same mistake again."
The issues go beyond review boards, Poore said. Police need to see and be seen as members of a community, not just as the law enforcers of a community.
"It doesn't matter how much we talk or how many review boards we set up, not everyone is going to trust them," she said. "But we have to do something."
Reach Gary Harki at gha...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.