By Chadwick Dolgos
A Coraopolis resident who alleges the police department there mishandled a 2018 mental health-related call to her home, attended the Sept. 9 council meeting with her husband, parents and friends demanding answers and change.
Resident Amanda Papa, who was arrested and spent eight days in the Allegheny County Jail in 2018, demanded answers from the borough on how they plan to address police dealings with mental health situations in the future.
“Two and a half years ago, we had an unfortunate incident with police who did not respond correctly to a mental health problem, and it resulted in me being arrested,” said Papa after the meeting.
“They won’t get back to us on whether they’ve investigated the police officer who illegally arrested me from my home and didn’t take me to the hospital.”
The public comment portion of the council meeting quickly grew chaotic. Papa and her supporters talked over council while officials indicated this was not a proper format for discussion because of possible litigation and that non-residents were not permitted to speak.
“My daughter lost her baby and she was having a lot of emotional issues,” Mother Linda Papa told the council. “We wanted [the police] to put her in the hospital because we were afraid she was going to hurt herself.”
According to husband Garret Wasserman, the county jail system “moves slowly with mental health-related issues.”
Wasserman explained it took Amanda eight days to be seen by a doctor, when “she could have been receiving treatment that entire week instead of being locked up in a jail cell.”
Wasserman said the group will continue to ask for answers in hopes of addressing what he sees as a national problem with police accountability. “They handle problems with violence and force instead of trying to de-escalate and find mental health help or whatever might be the proper solution.”
One step toward addressing the national plea for police accountability is to require police officers to wear body cameras.
Prior to the discussions by Papa and her group at the Sept. 9 meeting, Coraopolis Solicitor Richard F. Start endorsed a policy proposal for Coraopolis police officers to wear body cameras while on duty.
“We have been thinking about body cams for some time, but had to do the research on them,” said Chief Ronald Denbow, who fully supports implementing the cameras on his force. “The body cams will both benefit the officer’s safety and the public’s safety by capturing the events of what transpired with the interactions with the public.”
He notes that body cams also allow for officers to record evidence at the scene of a crime.
Opponents of body cameras argue the financial cost of body cameras outweighs any benefits they may bring to the community. Chief Denbow disagrees.
“I believe, absolutely, the benefits outweigh the cost,” he said.