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Politics and Government

State College Borough Creates Community Oversight Board For Police And A New Department

Two yard signs that read Black Lives Matter and Thank You Police Officers displayed side by side
Emily Reddy
/
WPSU
The State College Borough Council unanimously approved an ordinance Monday to establish a Community Oversight Board for its police department and voted to create a new Department of Equity and Inclusion.

The State College Borough Council unanimously approved an ordinance Monday to establish a Community Oversight Board for its police department and voted to create a new Department of Equity and Inclusion. 

The nine-member Community Oversight Board, appointed by the Borough Council, will monitor and audit the State College Police Department by establishing a civilian complaint process, where members can receive, process, and investigate citizen complaints, according to the ordinance.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Borough Council President Jesse Barlow. 

The State College Borough Council voted to create the Board in June 2020, when protests for racial equity and police accountability took place nationwide. Community advocates, including groups like the 3/20 Coalition, have asked for greater community oversight on policing since the police killing of Osaze Osagie in 2019. 

The Borough approved $165,000 in its 2021 budget to fund the creation of the Community Oversight Board. 

Under the ordinance, the Community Oversight Board can conduct independent reviews of closed cases where serious injury or death occurred. Members will be able to recommend changes to law enforcement policies, practices, and procedures, although there are certain legal limitations, and their findings and recommendations are not binding.  

Members of the Board will serve three-year terms and will be selected by the end of September, according to the Borough. They have to be residents in police service areas and not elected or employed by municipalities. Their first meeting will be in October.

During two public meetings seeking input for the ordinance, residents discussed whether former law enforcement officers should qualify for the Board. The ordinance passed states that they can qualify if they were last employed as officers at least three years prior. 

Questions were also raised about whether the borough staff who will coordinate between the municipality and the Board can be independent of the borough.

In response, the borough decided the head of the newly created Department of Equity and Inclusion will become the executive director of the Board. This new hire will report to the Borough Manager and coordinate for the Board as a non-voting member. 

Council debated whether to specifically require Critical Race Theory in the ordinance as a part of initial training for board members, given disagreements from the public. Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said the ordinance shouldn’t specify which trainings are required, but leave that decision to the Board itself.

Mayor Ron Filippelli suggested the ordinance should include broader topics of slavery, racism, discrimination and the impact on Black Americans instead.

“Critical Race Theory is one of many approaches to the study of race and slavery and racism in America. I agree with almost all of it. But we are writing law here,” he said. “We should not put in a theory of history and embed it in a law.”

The ordinance passed with the required training on Critical Race Theory, among other topics like civil rights law, use of force policies and implicit bias. 

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