DUNBAR, W.Va. (WTRF) – After a year of allegations involving hidden cameras, abuse and misconduct, West Virginia State Police is restructuring the way it prepares future officers.
“By large majority, every trooper in the state wants to do a good job and they want to be professional, and they want to take care of the citizens.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
Changes are coming to the West Virginia State Police Academy.
While some of these changes were made as a result of incidents that lawsuits claim took place, others officials say needed to be made for a long time and are finally able to happen under the administration of Superintendent Colonel Jack Chambers.
West Virginia State Police gave 7News an exclusive look into changes at the Academy to explain how they make sure the Academy is a safe place for the staff and trainees.
“State Police has been an agency for over 100 years. We we haven’t survived over 100 years because we’ve never had problems. We have survived over 100 years because we know how to deal with these problems. We hate that it happened. It breaks your heart. It’s not fair. It’s not just that anyone to ever be mistreated. And what we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
The West Virginia State Police are moving forward at the Academy after nearly a year of allegations.
It’s a high stress environment, and officials know that, so they’re starting with ways to better balance the physical challenges with academics.
“This is a stress inoculation, paramilitary style academy, so it is stressful by nature. What we have done is to lessen the term period of stress inoculation, which could be the first several weeks. Now, it’s basically like the first two weeks, maybe leading into the third, depending on the performance of a class.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
Major Mitchell said physical conditioning has to be difficult because law enforcement is not a normal job.
While the standards are the same for female and male trainees, they’re mostly looking for effort and heart.
“We’re dealing with life and death situations. A person may be required to fight beyond what their body tells them that they’re able to fight. Your mind may tell your body to shut down. We’re conditioning people to continue to fight for their very life.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
At the beginning of every class, members of the Academy’s Executive Staff will now sit down with female participants so they know there’s an open dialogue.
“If there’s ever any issue or they feel that they have been treated inappropriately, we want them to discuss that with us and we want to know about it so that we can correct that.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
A female staff member also resides with female students.
State police are also adding another class to the trainee’s academic curriculum called “Color of the Law” taught by the FBI, which is focused on proper conduct for officers.
“Police officers, regardless of agency, are taught about the importance of conducting themselves in a professional manner. If you do something under the color of law, it is a completely different penalty. It’s a federal penalty other than if you did it outside of the color of law when you’re not acting in your official capacity.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
Major Mitchell explained that class was previously taught to current membership of the West Virginia State Police at in-service training, but leadership felt it should be a standard class for all trainees as well.
As part of the new balance of academic and physical challenges, the West Virginia State Police entered into an agreement with West Virginia State University.
Each trainee will earn up to 60 hours of college credit.
All cadets training to be troopers will earn up to 90 hours.
Major Mitchell said this new focus on academic challenges is response to the changing culture of policing.
Maybe one of the biggest additions in light of the past year of accusations is the installation of a new 60-camera system that state police say cover nearly every area of the facility. Officials say it will prevent the alleged problems of the past from happening again.
“If by some slim chance it would, we would know who did it. We would know that it had been done at that point and we can stop it.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
Access to those cameras will be limited to the Executive Staff.
Trainees will also now have an adjusted schedule as they go through the Academy.
Lights out used to be at 11:00 p.m. and trainees would have to rotate on security watch for two hours during the night. Now, lights out is at 10:00 a.m. and there is no more watch.
“We want them to have more sleep. The focus is so that they can better comprehend, understand and retain the information we’re trying to give them so when they leave here they can do a better job.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
West Virginia State Police feel these changes create a high standard for trainees, whether they go to other law enforcement agencies or become state troopers.
“We’re not naïve enough to know that we’re ever finished with progressing, ever finished making things better. So, we’re constantly looking for ways to which we can improve not just our training academy, but the state police as a whole. We want to build upon the trust that we’ve had with the community of West Virginia.Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police
Major Mitchell continued on to say that the actions of the past were that of a few individuals, not the entire agency.
He reinforced that the West Virginia State Police will keep the new high expectations and standards throughout the entire agency.
“In no way, shape or form does the state police condone in any way what had taken place. We have made it perfectly clear that if someone that is a current member of this agency thinks about doing anything like that in the future, they’re certainly not caring much about their employment with this agency.”Major Jim Mitchell, Chief of Staff, West Virginia State Police