Because of the unique nature of the railroads, which cut their own privately owned thoroughfares through the state but transport people and goods as highways do, the Legislature created a special police officer to help handle law enforcement. These special police are appointed by the Governor, on application by a railroad company. Although the law sets no specific eligibility requirements for appointment, the Governor's Office requests a background check before the appointment is made.
Upon appointment, each special police officer is required to execute the oath prescribed by the Constitution. The original oath must be filed in the office of the clerk of the county commission in the county where the special police officer resides. After that original is filed, the officer or the employer must obtain certified copies of the original oath and file one with the Secretary of State and one with the clerk of the county commission of each county which the railroad passes through. The authority of the officer within a county depends on whether the oath is on file in that county.
No specific term is attached to the appointment of these special officers, and they retain the status and authority of special railroad police for as long as they continue in the employment of the company for which they were appointed. When the company no longer employs a person as a special police officer, the company files a notice to that effect under its corporate seal with the Secretary of State and with each county in which the original appointment was filed. The officer's authority ceases when that notice is filed.
The Governor may revoke an appointment for good cause. Special police officers may also be removed from office for official misconduct, incompetence, habitual drunkenness, neglect of duty, or gross immorality under the removal procedures established for other officers in W. Va. Code Chapter 6, Article 6.
The authority of special railroad police is the same as that a deputy sheriff in a county where the railroad extends and where the officer's oath is on file.
The provisions authorizing the appointment of special railroad police appears in the article of the West Virginia Code relating to crimes against property, W. Va. Code §61-3-41. The section relating to railroad property crimes dates back to Virginia in 1849, but it wasn’t until 1909 did the Legislature create this special position. The section was amended 1915, 1923, 1976 and 2005, but it remains only a brief paragraph in the West Virginia Code.
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