State College

Police take steps to improve community relations

A Penn State-State College borough joint task force released a study Monday detailing its examination into relations between law enforcement and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the Penn State community.

The 30-member task force was formed in August 2015 as a proactive effort to improve relations between the two groups, borough Manager Tom Fountaine told Borough Council Monday, and represented a broad spectrum of the community, including minorities, business professionals, social justice advocates, Mayor Elizabeth Goreham and both Penn State and State College police chiefs.

Fountaine stressed that the task force was not formed as a reaction to any incidents of violence in the U.S., but “formed in order to address issues in a proactive way in State College before we have these types of incidents in our community.”

According to the report, which can be found through the Penn State website, proactive steps have already been taken to prevent incidences on campus and in the borough, including participating in public demonstrations, participating in diversity and inclusion training and ensuring students know that officers are available to students and community members.

The report provided five recommendations for ensuring a safe and welcoming community on and off campus for people of color and becoming a national model for other university communities: promote greater recognition and celebration of our successes as a community; increase the recruitment and retention of employees of color in the police departments; provide consistent and ongoing education for Penn State students and employees, local residents and local police; target outreach and marketing to build/improve stakeholder engagement; and establish a baseline of parameters and develop appropriate metrics to assess improvement.

“The work of the task force speaks volumes about the proactiveness of the community,” Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business David Gray said in a news release. “For me, at least, a key take away is both police departments have a lot to do to improve the diversity of their respective forces.”

While the report focuses on the university and the borough, the report recommended Ferguson and Patton township police departments be included in the implementation, while Bellefonte and Spring Township police are also critical for long-term success.

“The task force recognizes this is a multiyear endeavor and that there may be some missteps along the way,” the report said. “But we are very confident that needed changes can be accomplished and that Penn State and State College will earn the right to be recognized as a national model for upholding diversity and inclusion in a town and gown community for the 21st Century.”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews