For years, Philadelphia officials made adjustments in how authorities respond to 911 calls for people in crisis. More police were trained to intervene. Outreach workers were paired with cops in Kensington. And a behavioral health specialist was embedded in the dispatch center.
Then in October, Philadelphia police fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., firing 14 times at the 27-year-old Black man who approached them while wielding a knife and ignoring calls to drop it. Police were responding to 911 calls with screaming in the background from family and neighbors who said Wallace was hitting his parents.
When police arrived, Wallace’s wife shouted that her husband was “mental,” and family later said he was in crisis that day. But Wallace’s mental health status wasn’t discussed during the frantic 911 calls, and the police’s new behavioral health specialist wasn’t in the radio room when the calls came in.