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New W.Va. House Bill Creates Minimum Standards For Hiring Local Officers

Delegate David Kelly, a Republican from Tyler County, spoke about a bill in the House of Delegates on Monday, March 15, 2021.
Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Del. David Kelly, R-Tyler, speaks to House Bill 2891 on minimum standards for law enforcement agencies.

A bill headed to the West Virginia Senate creates new standards for the hiring of law enforcement officers.

If it becomes law, House Bill 2891 would require applicants for local law enforcement agencies to have graduated from at least high school, and to complete both a psychological assessment and polygraph exam prior to training.

The legislation bars applicants who have been dishonorably discharged from any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, or anyone who has been convicted of or admitted to crimes of domestic violence, drug offenses or “moral turpitude.”

The bill also prohibits law enforcement agencies from hiring anyone who can’t transport or possess firearms. Applicants must consent to a background check.

The bill's lead sponsor, Del. David Kelly, R-Tyler, said Friday the legislation spells out work that most police departments and sheriff's offices already do.

“Most of what we put in the bill, it’s already implied,” said Kelly, a former sheriff. He sponsored the legislation with other delegates who have law enforcement backgrounds.

“We want to be proactive. I think being proactive is better than being reactive, any day.”

The bill passed Monday with one noticeable change. An earlier version of the legislation would’ve set the minimum hiring age to 21 years old, but delegates voted Friday to return that age to 18, saying anything older would restrict local law enforcement agencies that are already struggling to secure applicants.

The bill includes provisions for officers-in-training. Namely, if an officer is still being certified, they have to work under direct, physical supervision of another fully trained officer.

The bill, for municipal and county law enforcement agencies, replicates standards that the West Virginia State Police already follows for its own troopers.

Before sending the bill to the full House of Delegates, members of the House Judiciary Committee, who first considered the bill, heard from representatives of the West Virginia State Police and the state Law Enforcement Professional Standards subcommittee, which oversees the statewide certification of local officers.

House Bill 2891 passed 89 to 9 with two members absent.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.

Emily Allen works in Charleston covering the state Legislature and public affairs throughout southern West Virginia.

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