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State College Borough Council OKs Contract for Police Department Assessment

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State College Borough Council on Monday unanimously approved a contract with the International Association of Chiefs of Police for an independent review and assessment of the borough police department’s policies and practices.

The assessment is one of several measures taken by the borough in recent months to address issues raised by the shooting death of Osaze Osagie in March.

In August, council approved funding for an independent law enforcement consultant to conduct the review. The contract approved Monday is for $60,000 and the review will take place over six months. IACP’s proposal identified three law enforcement professionals to be part of the assessment team: Jessie Lee, lead subject matter expert and former executive director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; Sue Riseling, former longtime chief of police at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Mark Lomax, a retired Pennsylvania State Police major.

‘This project will involve a comprehensive and independent assessment of State College Police Department’s critical policies, practices and procedures and provide actionable recommendations in areas in which improvement is identified by the three consultants,’ Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said. ‘The results of this assessment will help further progressive change within the agency and set the course for improved interactions with all segments the community.’

IACP’s proposal says the team ‘will conduct extensive on-site work,’ analyze historical and new data, compare it to past work and professional standards and in relation to contemporary challenges of police departments to create a series of recommendations. It will focus on existing model practices within the department as well as areas for improvement.

‘The study report will be comprehensive and balanced,’ the IACP proposal states. ‘It will highlight positive aspects of operations as well as those that may need modification… The report and recommendations will emphasize actions the department can employ to achieve objectives more effectively, maximize productivity and meet future requirements in an informed and orderly manner. Additionally, it will document existing foundational components on which to base sustained development and inform the police profession.’

Osagie was shot and killed during a confrontation with State College police, who had come to his apartment to serve a 302 mental health warrant. His parents recently said they plan to file a lawsuit against the police department.

Though the officers involved were exonerated by a state police investigation and an internal review, some community members have continued to express concerns about police oversight and training.

While the borough has not formed a citizens oversight committee, as some have requested, it has taken several other steps. In addition to the IACP assessment, a group is being formed to update the 2016 report by the Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color, reviewing what has been done and what still needs to be implemented.

When it approved funding for the consultant review, borough council also authorized a $100,000 contract with the National League of Cities Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL) to lead an assessment, provide training and work with the borough and community members to develop a racial equity plan.

Another $50,000 was allocated to support the work of a 30-member mental health crisis services task force, which will ‘recommend enhancements to, and identify strengths of, the mental health crisis delivery system in Centre County.’

Fountaine added that borough staff have been talking with several Penn State professors about the role they can play regarding issues of mental health, race and policing.

Council President Evan Myers said on Monday that approval of the police assessment contract is a continuation of a commitment council has made since Osagie’s death.

‘This goes along with the pledge we made some months ago to continue to take a look at how we look at race, how we look at mental health, the intersection of those… and also conduct an assessment to provide training and develop a racial equity plan. This continues to support and uphold the pledge that this council made.’