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Task Force Recommends Policing Changes In Centre County, At Penn State

State College police truck
Anne Danahy

A new report published Tuesday recommended significant changes to Centre County’s police departments.

The Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color spent eight months reviewing local police data and practices from six different departments, including State College, Bellefonte, and Penn State’s campus police.

The report recommends police departments overhaul their hiring efforts to diversify units and better represent their communities. It also suggests implementing specialized training for officers in areas like mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence.

Additionally, the report found the six examined police departments all track data differently. The group recommended creating consistency to cut down on potential biases.

Emil Cunningham chairs the task force and leads diversity and inclusion efforts at Penn State. He says getting involved is the simplest way to advocate for more equitable policing.

“There is so much available for us to make change right now. I just think as an everyday person, we just have to step up and say, ‘Hey, how can I be a part of this change?’" he said.

Cunningham said he was proud of the group’s work but noted recommendations can only create so much change. He said the greater responsibilities will fall on local leaders and police chiefs, who would need to implement the changes.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said State College will examine the report and use its findings to strengthen relations between its police and the community.

“The borough and the State College Police Department look forward to working with Penn State, other police departments and our communities of color in Centre County to continue implementing a wide range of strategies to improve the relationship with the underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities within the State College community,” Fountaine said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have passionate staff, Penn State faculty, staff and students and community members engaged to help us accomplish this goal.”

The task force formed in 2015 and published an initial report the next year. Penn State President Eric Barron reconvened the group in September, just months after policing became a national conversation following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The group’s first efforts focused only on State College and Penn State police. This year, it expanded efforts to examine surrounding municipalities like Ferguson, Patton and Spring Townships.

The Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color’s full report can be accessed online.

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