This spring, the State College Police Department made headlines when an officer, who has not been named, shot and killed 29-year-old State College resident Osaze Osagie.
At last Monday’s State College Borough Council meeting, police released the results of their internal investigation into the fatal shooting of Osagie, concluding the officers involved responded consistently with department policies and trainings and will not be liable, as previously reported by The Daily Collegian.
This was the first deadly shooting to occur in the history of the State College Police Department. Naturally, the community was shaken. Further, the fact that the man killed was not only a person living with a mental illness, but also a person of color, gave many in the community even more reason to react harshly against the officers involved.
The State College Police Department stands by its findings that the officers followed training and proper practices, and that though the loss of a life is unfortunate, it is standard procedure in all police departments. If that is the case, then the State College Police Department needs to confront that perhaps this is a systemic issue in Centre County and beyond.
There have been public forums, press conferences, investigations and more to draw conclusions and attempt to answer questions as to how the fatal shooting of Osagie unfolded.
However, as long as the State College Police Department stands by its findings that no officers were liable in a situation where a life was lost, there will always be questions and a lack of trust from the public.
Though we would like to trust that our law enforcement officials can reasonably hold themselves accountable, it also doesn’t come as a surprise that an entity tasked with investigating itself might try to protect its self-interest.
There would likely be stronger trust behind that decision if it were made by a party not involved in the incident and without police ties.
People will continue to call for prosecution of the officers involved in the shooting regardless, which is understandable given the fact that no one except the three officers present will ever truly know what transpired on the night of March 20.
Since the investigation into the State College Police Department was conducted internally, it is hard to believe that a department would find itself culpable.
This leads to the question of whether an independent investigation would have resulted in different conclusions or been perceived as a more transparent operation among the general public.
But again, there is no way to know for sure.
The evidence in the investigation doesn’t change based on the investigator, but the conclusions that the investigator draws might.
The officers were not wearing body cameras, which could have potentially answered questions that might put some minds more at ease.
Unfortunately, State College Police did not have the use of body cameras implemented at the time of the incident, though they have since started wearing body cameras as of this July.
Investigations were conducted by both the District Attorney’s office and the State College Police Department. Both ended with similar conclusions, finding the officers not liable.
An independent investigator may have concurred — or not.
The incident was also perceived by many as a failure of the mental health system.
The borough of State College is allocating $50,000 to a task force aimed to improve mental health crisis services in the community and prevent future incidents of this nature. In addition, another $100,000 will be allocated in spending to contract with the National League of Cities, as well as a $50,000 allotment to contract with a selected law enforcement consultant to conduct work that would review department policies and recommend necessary changes.
As the events leading up to Osagie’s death have been described by police, the responding officers reportedly tried to take non-lethal measures to de-escalate the situation before any shots were fired.
Police officers are trained to shoot to kill when their own lives, or the lives of other civilians, are endangered — this can have the potential to be an unpredictable, split-second decision to make, regardless of how much training an officer has.
The death of Osaze Osagie has been devastating for the State College community, and the impact will likely never go away — and it shouldn’t. This is a systemic issue, impacting our community and the United States as a whole.
Until change is implemented, community distrust toward police will likely continue.