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Parkersburg revises its police shooting policy

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A pair of officer-involved shootings last year led to changes in policy at the Parkersburg Police Department.

More than 30 amended rules and regulations were unanimously approved by Parkersburg City Council last week, although the policies had been in effect from four-and-a-half years to a couple of months ago. They covered topics from social media to the automated license plate reader, often involving updated terminology to meet state law or accreditation guidelines from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. improve efficiency

Among the changes was the addition of the option to place an officer involved in a shooting on administrative duty. Previously, the policy directed only that the officer be placed on paid, administrative leave, Police Chief Joe Martin said.

“Instead of isolating them from everybody else, I think there’s a better way to handle it psychologically,” he said.

It also helps remove the perception among members of the public that the officer was placed on leave because he or she did something wrong, Martin said.

“If they’ve clearly done nothing improper or illegal, we can keep them around the office,” Martin said.

On Jan. 14, 24-year-old Steven Lewis Pfalzgraf was shot and killed by Detective P.M. Edelen in the parking lot of the Grand Central Mall while driving his vehicle toward the officer after he dragged Detective J.M. Stalnaker, who tried to remove the keys from the ignition. The suspect had been attempting to flee with an accomplice who stole a purse from the food court and was pursued by the officers, who were doing a training exercise at the mall.

On July 15, 41-year-old Christopher Paul Johnson was shot by Lt. Greg Nangle and Patrolman M.L. Bosley after he refused to put down a gun he’d reportedly pointed at one of the officers during a traffic stop at Washington Avenue and Plum Street.

All the officers involved in those shootings were cleared of wrongdoing by internal and external investigations and the grand jury.

Three of the four were placed on administrative duty rather than leave, Martin said. The one who went on leave did so by choice.

“And that’s fine too,” Martin said.

The updated policy also directs shift supervisors to separate the officer or officers involved in the shooting from others but not to leave them alone.

“Basically it’s just to remove them from the scene,” the chief said.

Although it was not an option in the written rules at the time of the first shooting, Martin said placing the officers on administrative duty was possible because “I changed the policy.” It’s not required to be in writing because the department can operate under the order of the chief, he said.

Another change was the rescinding of the department’s policy permitting warning shots, something Martin addressed in 2009, early in his tenure as chief.

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “You’ve got to be accountable for that bullet that’s leaving your gun.”

Rather than take rule changes to council over and over, Martin opted to compile them and have council approve them all at once. If council members had questions or concerns about any of the policies, they could have been pulled out and sent to the Personnel Committee for review, he said.

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