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Borough Council Approves Funding For Mental Health Crisis Task Force, Racial Equity Plan, External Review Of Police Department Policies

The State College Borough Council unanimously approved supplemental funding for a series of mental health and racial equity-focused initiatives as well as an external review of police department procedure.

Council allocated $200,000 drawn from an unreserved fund balance to these initiatives, which were outlined by Borough Manager Tom Fountaine at Council’s Monday meeting and in its agenda notes.

Council’s first goal is the establishment of a mental health crisis task force, appointed jointly by Centre County and the Borough, “to recommend enhancements to, and identify strengths of, the mental health crisis delivery system in Centre County.” This task force will include a review of police officer response to mental health situations, and will report to Centre County Administrator Margaret Gray. Its allocation of $50,000 will be used mostly to support staffing and organizational procedures. 30 representatives from county and state-level organizations, including Penn State, will serve on the task force.

The task force will begin its work “as soon as (it) possibly can” with its first meeting planned for mid-September, according to Fountaine, and will complete the majority of its work, recommendations, and reporting by the spring of 2020.

Council also voted to fund the creation of a racial equity plan with the help of the National League of Cities’ Race and Equity Leadership (REAL) team. The plan, created with support from the REAL team, will aim to “strengthen local government leaders’ knowledge and capacity to eliminate racial disparities, heal racial divisions, and build more equitable communities.” This initiative will include training for local representatives as well as inter-municipal and community-based network building. The Borough allocated $100,000 to the creation of the plan and its accompanying initiatives.

Council allocated $50,000 to the contracting of a law enforcement consultant to review specific policies and procedures of the State College Police Department. The consultant will also reportedly examine the department’s internal review of the use of force in the death of Osaze Osagie.

“I think we need to put our money where our mouth is,” said Council President Evan Myers, adding that the proposed package of initiatives “Only scratches the surface.”

Community member Melanie Morrison noted that the Borough had not formed a previously requested advisory board with community oversight.

“As it appears, nothing was on the schedule regarding our continued request for the community advisory and review board, regarding policing separate from the mental health task force,” Morrison said.

Council’s vote to approve the appropriations was followed by Police Chief John Gardner’s announcement that the State College Police Department determined, via an internal review, that officer conduct in the shooting death of Osaze Osagie was ‘consistent with department policies.’

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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