Borough News

The Ad Hoc Civilian Oversight Board Study Committee held a second public meeting Thursday to address local community members' concerns about the future Civilian Oversight Board.

Several Centre County residents joined the public meeting to provide their insights and help the ad hoc committee decide what the structure and role of COB in State College should be.

The study committee, first established in July, was tasked by the State College Borough Council to identify a model fit for a future COB.

The committee is part of the State College Borough’s Diversity, Equity and Isolation initiatives and includes nine members.

The ad hoc committee’s Chairman Mark Bergstrom is also an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Penn State.

Members including Susan Bardo, Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia and Daniel Mckenrick, have experience working with the law at Penn State.

Wadhia is a law professor and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Penn State. She is the founder and director of Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. She has served as an immigrant attorney for 20 years.

Also directing a law clinic at the university, Bardo is a visiting assistant professor at the Penn State Law school and serves as the interim director at the university’s Family Law Clinic.

Mckenrick is an attorney at Penn State’s student legal services and serves on the Board of Directors of Centre Helps.

Nalini Krishnankutty, who has lived in State College for the last 33 years, is a Penn State alumna of chemical engineering and women’s studies. She serves on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s advisory commission for Asian-specific American Affairs.

Other members of the ad hoc council such as Janet Irons, Barabara Farmer and James Locker are retired but have experience either as educators or at Penn State.

Barabara Farmer is a retired administrator from the State College area public schools and director of multicultural affairs at the College of IST at Penn State.

James Locker, who has lived in Centre County since 1972, spent his last 30 years working at the university as an equal employment opportunity officer for Penn State cooperative extensions and college agricultural sciences. Locker has previously served as the chair of the Centre County Advisory Council and has been involved with the State College police civil service commission for the last 35 years.

Janet Irons, who is a recently retired professor of history from Lock Haven University, has previously been involved with community organizations such as the Centre County chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

Public Input

Throughout the committee’s meeting, Centre County residents emphasized the importance of establishing a Community Oversight Board that would reform the police department’s policies.

3/20 Coalition secretary, Melanie Morrison, challenged previous statements that the COB would chiefly serve in an advisory capacity to the State College Borough Council.

Morrison contended that the COB should have legitimate authority over the local police force and could amend its charter to shift some of the authority from the Borough Council.

Morrison, who said she wanted to see the COB become as transparent and effective as possible, explained that the committee could create an ordinance that would permit the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement to independently investigate the local police force.

“This board must have teeth,” Morrison said.

Iyun Osagie, the mother of Osaze Osagie, also appeared at the meeting to question what role the COB would have in relation to legal cases brought against the police department. Osagie was a 29-year-old unarmed Black man with a history of mental illness who was fatally shot in March 2019 by a State College police officer.

Osaze was shot when three officers served a mental health warrant at his apartment. Osaze ran at the officers with a knife, and after an attempt to tase him, an officer shot and killed him.

Osagie questioned the goals of the COB.

“Is it a Board empowered to actually make something happen or is it a board that would indeed just make the police department and borough look good?”

Community members who attended the meeting also made the case for limiting the role of police officers dealing with people with mental illnesses and their presence in the local school system.

Additionally, Nanre Nafziger-Mayegun, a co-leader of the 3/20 Coalition, said it was important for the COB to be composed of members who represent those who have historically been “over-policed in the community.”

Errol Henderson, a former associate professor of international relations at Penn State, said community issues that led to Osaze's killing had yet to be addressed through the police department’s investigations.

“We’ve had people with mental health concerns in State College since there was a State College,” Henderson said. “They weren't killed.”

Henderson said that not releasing the name of the officer who shot and killed Osagie created “undue stress within the community,” as community members are concerned that if they called the police, they would be met with the so-called “Officer One” who shot Osaze.

Barbara Farmer concluded the meeting by stressing how much she appreciated the public input.

"We hear you, and we thank you for letting us hear your voices,” she said.

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