Joint task force releases report, recommendations on community-police relations

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A town-gown task force examining the relationship between law enforcement and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the Penn State community made public its final report with recommendations today (July 18).

The group, the Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color, was commissioned in August 2015 by Penn State and the Borough of State College to review best practices and develop observations and recommendations to improve police-community relations. The task force included more than 30 people, representing a cross section of the campus and local community, as well as Penn State Police and State College Police. It submitted its final report to David Gray, Penn State’s senior vice president for Finance and Business, and Tom Fountaine, State College borough manager, in May.

“The work of the task force speaks volumes about the proactiveness of the community,” Gray said. “For me, at least, a key take away is both police departments have a lot to do to improve the diversity of their respective forces. The community needs representation on these forces with which they can identify. Until we make progress on the police officer recruitment and retention goal, it’s going to be harder to make headway against the other important goals identified by the task force.”

“The members of the task force have generously shared their experiences and demonstrated a high level of commitment to enhance the ongoing efforts needed to foster a welcoming community where all residents feel safe. With greater collaboration and increased communication between campus and community members, we can celebrate the important advancements made thus far, and still, maintain the necessary dialogue with communities of color," said Borough Manager Tom Fountaine. "We want to ensure that the increasingly growing diversity in State College continues to only enrich the fabric of our neighborhoods and not create the cultural tensions that we have seen nationally. The State College community needs more groups like Campus and Community in Unity, cofounded by Chief Tom King and Harold McKenzie in 2014, to serve as a resource and safe space to State College residents.”

The report contains five core recommendations:

  • Promote greater recognition and celebration of community successes;
  • Increase recruitment and retention of employees of color in the police departments;
  • Provide consistent and ongoing education for Penn State students and employees, local residents in the surrounding communities and local police departments;
  • Target outreach and marketing to build/improve stakeholder engagement; and
  • Establish a baseline of parameters and develop appropriate metrics to assess improvement.

As the task force researched best practices and developed observations, a number of themes began to emerge, said Barbara Farmer, task force member and retired director of the College of Information Science and Technology’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. The themes formed the basis of the five core recommendations.

“We did not want to overwhelm people,” she said of the number of recommendations. “We wanted the report to be embraced.”

Although the final report was released to the public today, University and borough leaders have already been implementing elements of the report wherever possible, including diversity and inclusion training in February for more than 164 police officers from Penn State and five surrounding police departments, meet-and-greet events with University and State College police and officers’ participation in the annual fall LION Walk event.

“Our hope is that we can move from the rhetoric from the words on the paper to changing hearts and minds,” said Edgar Farmer, task force member and professor emeritus of learning and performance systems at Penn State.

“The work of the task force provides us with substantive and meaningful recommendations to continue improving our practices and strengthening our community. Throughout the process, the borough, the University and other area police departments began implementation of many of the key recommendations in the report, such as expanding marketing efforts for the borough's upcoming police testing and recruitment process, and providing diversity, de-escalation and crisis intervention training for police officers," said Fountaine. “These actions, along with our commitment to address the recommendations from this report over the long-term help improve and continue the conversation and relationships formed through this task force.”

Lydia Abdullah, the task force’s chair and director of Penn State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion for Finance and Business, said the next step will be to form implementation teams and move forward on the report’s recommendations.

“We’ve got good working relationships in place and we have a good foundation,” she said, citing the community’s past experiences, available services and committed stakeholders.

Gray said, “We intend to make the necessary investments,” including funding programs and hiring personnel.

In addition to implementing the report’s recommendations, University and borough leaders are looking to expand efforts to include other municipalities around Penn State.

“At the moment, we are in a better place than a lot of other communities in the U.S. because we started the conversation earlier. However, we cannot rest on our laurels,” Gray said. “Like other communities, we know we’re just a single incident away from finding ourselves in a very difficult position. Embracing and implementing the task force’s recommendations will help to strengthen our community and its relationships with law enforcement.”

A PDF of the task force report can be downloaded at http://www.psu.edu/ur/newsdocuments/TaskForceReport.pdf.

Last Updated July 18, 2016