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State College Police Chief Discusses Military-Style Equipment in Hands of Local Police

by on August 18, 2014 8:57 PM

A program that supplies surplus military-style equipment to police from the federal government was examined during the state College Borough Council meeting Monday night.

The topic has become a national issue following the controversial fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. The sometimes violent protests that followed have raised questions about police enforcement tactics.

State College Police Chief Tom King addressed the matter at the request of council member Evan Myers.

Myers asked King to explain what military equipment the State College Police Department has obtained under a federal surplus program, while noting, "In no way shape or form do I believe the police department in State College has done anything that would warrant our concern..."

King says the department obtained some equipment through the federal military surplus program shortly after the 1998 riot downtown when several police officers suffered injuries. King says it was during that riot that police quickly learned they were ill-equipped to handle such an incident, which included participants throwing rocks and cans at officers.

Afterward, the department obtained "very limited" equipment through the military program, including helmets to prevent head injuries. Since then, the borough has used its own funds to purchase updated helmets for the department.

King also noted the department has access to an armored vehicle housed in Logan Township, Blair County. The vehicle is designated for use by law enforcement in an eight county region, including Centre County. King says authorities have used the vehicle in Centre County for barricaded gunman situations. The vehicle enables officers to safely enter the scene.

"No, we don't have airplanes, we don't have tanks, we don't have drones, we have nothing like that," says King. "We have equipment to deal with it as safely as possible, and that's safely for the citizens first and then the officers."

King also noted the department is not equipped with tear gas, which authorities have used in Ferguson, Mo., but the department does have a "very basic supply" of pepper spray, which he says only affects a person if they are directly hit with it.

King says equipment needs change over time. For example, King says at one time he never believed there would be a need for rifles in patrol cars. However, following active shooter incidents in public places, such as schools and shopping malls, State College patrol cars are now equipped with rifles through borough funds.

"I want to stress very strongly that it's not so much equipment that departments have across the country, it's the manner in which people use the equipment," says King. "If we have an active shooter this minute ... every second you delay is more lives lost."

In other news, council unanimously agreed to refinance the 2009 general obligation bond resulting in a total savings of 4.9 percent or roughly $637,000 based on the advice of Concord Public Financial Advisors.

Council also agreed to remove the on-site property manager requirement at Waupelani Heights. Amy Haines, vice president of S&A Homes, says the position has not worked well at the property and managers have essentially received free rent without properly managing the site. For example, the 2013 fire that destroyed several units was due to a charcoal grill, which was prohibited at the property. Haines says property management overlooked the violation.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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