Borough Council Discusses Further Action Following Shooting Death Of Osaze Osagie
At its bi-weekly meeting Monday, the State College Borough Council discussed its long-term course of action in the wake of the shooting death of Osaze Osagie.
Borough Manager Tom Fountaine outlined several Borough initiatives focused on addressing racial and mental health issues as well as police department policy in State College.
Fountaine noted that State College’s practice of not naming police officers implicated in incidents involving the use of force would be reviewed if necessary as part of the Borough’s ongoing project. After he was prompted by a community member at the podium, Fountaine said that the individual officer identified as “Officer #1” in the District Attorney’s report on Osagie’s death “is not currently working in the State College Police Department pending the conclusion of the investigation.”
Fountaine said that after a review, Borough staff decided that a task force on the subject of race in State College “was not widely supported” and that the subject would be addressed through other initiatives. He added that a task force “to address the mental health issues that have been raised within the community” was moving forward after a June 27 meeting, and that officials had “talked about” potential membership and preliminary charges for the institution. Fountaine said that staff planned to have a recommendation in front of Council and other governing bodies in August to officially charter the 25 to 30-member task force.
Fountaine noted that the Borough was working with several organizations, including the National League of Cities, to create policies that would promote inclusion in the community. He also mentioned that several community groups including the 3/20 Coalition could possibly help lead and facilitate small-group conversational events.
Fountaine said that the internal review of the situation and police conduct “would be wrapped up very very soon,” and confirmed that the Borough has, within the last week, partially deployed body cameras amongst its police officers.
Councilman David J. Brown began Monday’s discussion with a statement on “concerns and a proposal” regarding the State College Police Department. Brown remarked on the department’s size compared to other municipal entities before claiming that its practices “may in part be Council’s ultimate responsibility.”
“Of course, our police have been very much in the news recently and have been quite vocally brought to Council’s attention at various meetings,” he said, citing “harsh demands for recrimination” in the wake of Osagie’s death. Brown claimed that there is evidence pointing to a decline in police officer moral.
“As more than one officer has recently expressed, amidst everything, Council has, in silence, heard us attacked, has not defended or exonerated us,” he said. “And in fact, they mostly seem to have little to no idea of who we (the police officers) are and how and why we do what we do.”
Brown went on to suggest several immersive, connective programs aimed at educating council members through initiatives like ride-alongs and station tours.
“I don’t think that many of us, in fact, have paid attention to the police department in much detail and depth,” he said.
After Councilman Dan Murphy remarked on the possible inefficacy of the use of tasers in police response situations and training, Councilwoman Theresa Lafer commented on the perceived ambiguity surrounding the circumstances of Osagie’s death.
“I can tell you, based on the report from the district attorney and the State Police, that I think our policemen who were there were caught in one of those things which has less to do with their training, which they seem to have fulfilled, and more to do with serendipity, illness, bad luck,” she said.
“I have been silent about it because I do not know exactly what happened, and I only know what everybody else knows,” she said.
Lafer then denounced the harassment of police department members, and called for the improvement of State College’s mental health and police training systems.
“We can’t ignore the angst and fear people of color have brought forward constantly in their testimony before us over the last few months,” Council President Evan Myers said. “Even if this shooting had never occurred, we have to address that.”
Mayor Don Hahn then opened the floor for public comment, allowing local resident Melanie Morrison to take the podium. Morrison noted that many requests submitted by community members, such as the confirmed firing or removal of the unnamed officers listed in District Attorney Bernie Cantorna’s report and the establishment of an advisory board with community oversight, have not been met.
“The police cannot continue to police themselves without any accountability,” she said. “We refuse to be comforted by empty promises for change.”
A man who only identified himself as “H” then approached the podium.
“Like anything else you have bad people and you have bad police officers, and you have excellent, highly-commendable police officers,” he said after providing background on his time in State College. “But as a whole, you do not have a good police force.”
Council will next convene in a regular meeting session on August 5.
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