UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A town-gown Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color including Penn State and local community leaders has been reconvened as one part of Penn State’s ongoing efforts to combat racism, address bias and enhance community safety.
First organized in 2015 with the goal of improving the relationship among law enforcement and underrepresented racial and ethnic minority communities, the Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color includes representation from a wide range of community partners including Penn State administrators, faculty, students and staff; the municipalities of State College Borough, Ferguson and Patton townships; University and local municipal police departments; and the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County (CBICC).
The task force’s initial findings and recommendations, released in 2016, focused on advancing greater diversity and inclusion within University and local police departments, training police officers to more effectively serve a diverse community, and fostering increased community engagement to address the concerns of underrepresented community members.
Penn State President Eric J. Barron asked the taskforce to reconvene and expand earlier this year as one of several University-wide initiatives to advance greater equity, diversity and inclusion, including the creation of a Select Penn State Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias and Community Safety, a full review of the Student Code of Conduct, and working with the Penn State Faculty Senate and other stakeholders to implement bias coursework and training for all students and employees. A recent update on the review of the Student Code of Conduct was presented in September to the Penn State Board of Trustees.
Barron has asked the reconvened and reconfigured task force to explicitly examine all procedures and practices related to bias and use of force, including those that result from the University’s partnerships across the commonwealth. The task force also has been charged with examining where University and local police departments have made, or not made, progress since the task force released its initial report and recommendations.
“The reconvening of this task force is asking, ‘How far have we come since our initial purpose when we launched this body, and, in light of persistent problems with racial inequities in policing, what more needs to be done?’ I believe it is important for us to keep focused on progress and action, not only because this moment in time situates us to do that — but because it is the right thing to do,” said task force Chair Emil L. Cunningham, director for the office of diversity and inclusion for Penn State Finance and Business.
Cunningham noted that this task force is a proactive and visible commitment to the community and to advancing equitable policing and social justice. “The fact that we continue this work is, for me, a recognition that town-gown and community partnerships to discuss, evaluate, commit and communicate tangible progress are key.”
The executive sponsors of the reconvened task force are Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business/Treasurer David Gray and State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine.
“This Task Force provides us with an opportunity to build on the work from the 2016 Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color, which outlined concrete action steps to further develop healthy and dynamic relationships between law enforcement agencies and our communities of color. The Borough of State College is committed to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion in our community, and ensuring that State College is a welcoming and diverse community, which is a core strategic goal for the borough,” Fountaine said. “I am confident that this task force will provide us with recommendations that will improve how our law enforcement agency can continue to build and adapt to accomplish our goals of addressing the relationship between police and persons of color.”
Since the initial report of the task force in 2016, Penn State has created a Community-Oriented Policing Unit to work with campus and student organizations, take part in campus activities and provide community programming and events. University Police and Public Safety helped pilot the creation of the Equity Action Resource Team to assist with staff search diversity and inclusion efforts, including hiring and promotion within University police. Police officers at University Park have undergone trainings on cross-cultural communication, community policing, cultural competency, implicit bias and crisis intervention, as well as training with the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. University Police also proactively provide programming and services to underrepresented groups on campus, including events in partnership with the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and Paul Robeson Cultural Center. Following a thorough review, Penn State has also committed to purchase body-worn cameras for all police officers at 22 campuses.
The full membership of the taskforce includes:
- Emil Cunningham, task force chair, director of diversity and inclusion for Penn State Finance and Business
- Jesse Barlow, State College Borough Council president
- Joseph Milek, chief of police operations for Penn State University Police and Public Safety
- John Gardner, chief of the State College Police Department
- Iris Richardson, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Penn State University Police and Public Safety
- Ronald Filippelli, State College mayor
- Charima Young, Penn State director of local government and community relations
- Chris Albright, Ferguson Township chief of police
- Carlos Wiley, director of the Penn State Paul Robeson Cultural Center
- Tyler Jolley, Patton Township chief of police
- Shoba Wadhia, director of the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic
- Seria Chatters, State College Area School District director of equity and inclusivity and Penn State adjunct associate professor of education
- Patreese Ingram, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences assistant dean of multicultural affairs
- Kevin Kassab, State College Borough community engagement manager
- Melissa Landrau Vega, director and coordinator of Latina/o initiatives for the Penn State Multicultural Resource Center
- Charles Dumas, State College Borough planning commission member and professor emeritus in the Penn State School of Theatre
- Derek James, co-chair of the Penn State President’s Commission for Racial/Ethnic Diversity
- Irene Miller Wetzel, CBICC vice president for member engagement
- Cynthia Young, department head and associate professor of African American studies
- Centrice Martin, assistant to the Ferguson Township manager
- Lydia Abdullah, retired director for the office of diversity and inclusion for Penn State Finance and Business
- Shaun Gabbidon, Penn State Harrisburg distinguished professor of criminal justice
- Aaron Kaufman, executive director of Penn State Hillel
- AnneMarie Mingo, assistant professor of African American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies
More information on Penn State’s ongoing efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion can be found at actiontogether.psu.edu.