If Gadfly had his way . . .

Latest in a series of posts about the death of Walter Wallace

Gadfly is concerned about a Walter Williams “first contact” situation here.

Gadfly feels he has good reason to be concerned.

Walter Williams is the tip of an iceberg going back to Jacob Blake, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd and beyond to

Gadfly guesses some people will say such an incident is not likely here, we are a good town, we have a good police force, but he also guesses that towns like Kenosha and Ferguson felt that way too.

Gadfly suggests nothing negative about our police department.

He would just like to know how our police department would handle such a “first contact” situation and whether such tragic events have prompted any re-thinking or brand-new thinking relative to such situations.

Gadfly feels that the “first contact” situation is “the” front-burner problem in policing today.

And thus he was frustrated at the way it was, in his opinion, buried at the October 29 Committee of the Whole meeting.

What we learned at that meeting (and rolled out a bit more at the November 9 budget meeting — and Gadfly will get to that meeting in more detail shortly) is that the City, in a pilot program, is reassigning a social worker funded mostly (how much exactly has been left vague) on grant money to handle a variety of mental-health type referrals from police officers. There also will be a freebie intern from Kutztown during the academic year. The idea is to save police time with repeated calls regarding a troubled individual and to cut down on the number of arrests.

All well and good.

But this plan does not relate (directly anyway) to the first contact situation.

Gadfly assumes that a person referred by the police would have to voluntarily comply with interaction with the social worker and with whatever mental health or counseling treatment was appropriate. So there’s no guarantee that a referral will avoid a first contact situation.

Even a person who voluntarily complies might “go off” at a some point and create a first contact situation.

And there could be/would be first contact situations with people not previously known to the police.

So Gadfly was not satisfied with our response.

He felt the October 29 meeting was a waste. Everybody who was anybody was in the room. The time was ripe for a good discussion.

But the elephant was not in the room.

With great presumption, he realizes, Gadfly has said he would have run the October 29 meeting differently.

He would have put this picture up on the Town Hall screen and played this short video and this short video.

And asked the assembled very directly, “How are our officers trained to handle a situation like this?” “If you agree that there was not a good outcome here for either the subject, or the officers (it must be shattering to kill some one in any circumstance), or the community, how do we avoid such an outcome?”

This is the focused point at which Gadfly would start the discussion with all the players in the room.

And if (when) discussion flagged a bit, he would play a few seconds of Walter Wallace’s mother screaming over his body.

All along, Gadfly has been puzzled with the City and City Council’s pace and indirection in dealing with the post-GeorgeFloyd reckoning with race, but he is glad to hear that there will be another meeting with the police after the turn of the year to deal with such matters as the first contact response.

But Gadfly found something interesting in his mail bag last week that might relate to the lack of urgency that has frustrated Gadfly.

More on that next.

Incident in Philadelphia (10): system failure

Latest in a series of posts about the death of Walter Wallace

The subject’s name was Walter Wallace.

Ok, in 9 posts Gadfly has tried to wrap hisself around the October 26 incident in Philadelphia as a proximate point of reference with which to judge the City’s proposed changes in policing talked about at the Committee of the Whole meeting October 29 and at the Budget hearing November 9.

And he has invited you to wrap yourselves around that incident in Philadelphia too.

The Wallace incident was the cause of Gadfly’s frustrated little outburst about confronting the “first contact” situation at the Committee of the Whole meeting.

He did not feel the need to speak at the Budget meeting because Walter Wallace’s name was invoked several times by both the virtual Head Tablers and the caller-commenters.

So, before we go on, join me with pulling together a bullet list of salient points about that incident.

Compare your list with mine.

What did Gadfly miss?

What do we see?

  • Police were called to the Wallace house twice before on the same day October 26.
  • Phone calls to the police made clear it was a mental health problem not a crime.
  • The call proximate to the event asked for an ambulance.
  • There were 31 prior contacts over time with WW’s house.
  • WW had a long “rap sheet,” but we don’t know the nature of his offenses.
  • WW was (or should have been) “known” to the police.
  • The officers made no attempt at de-escalation.
  • WW was dead within a minute of “first contact” with the officers.
  • Police shoot 14 times.
  • WW is killed in front of his mother, wife, family, dozens of neighbors — lots of trauma to go around.
  • Listen to WW’s mother screaming over his body.
  • WW had just gotten married, his wife delivered a baby shortly after the event, he had 9 children.
  • WW was carrying a 4-inch blade pocket knife.
  • WW was advancing on the officers but not charging or running.
  • The officers did multiple times tell WW to drop his weapon.
  • The street scene was noisy and chaotic.
  • It was estimated that 15 feet separated the officers from WW.
  • The police were armed only with guns, they had no tasers, no non-lethal weapons.
  • Police Union: WW initiated the action.
  • Police Union: WW ignored numerous lawful orders to drop his weapon while advancing on the officers.
  • Police Union: officers are blameless, they followed their training and police department policy.
  • The officers are in their mid-20s and on the force c. 3 years — young but not unseasoned or rookies.
  • Did the officers panic? Tension was high. Lots of screaming.
  • The police officers look white, but their race is not specified.
  • Both WW’s parents imply racism, lack of respect, unconcern for humanity.
  • WW’s mother reports that an officer on one of the earlier visits that day laughed at them.
  • The officers are heard saying “get him” and “shoot him” just before the shooting.
  • The shooting initiates several days of harsh and ugly unrest, confrontations, and looting in the city.
  • The National Guard is called in.
  • Wallace’s family urges calm.
  • The Mayor, Police Chief, etc., etc. know immediately on looking at the bodycams and other video that the officers screwed up.
  • City officials offer no defense of the officers.
  • The Police Chief offers no defense of the officers.
  • The police chief is a female.
  • The Police Chief did explain the nature and amount of deescalation training officers get in the Academy.
  • The District Attorney engages immediately in sympathetic way with the Wallace family, fights back tears at WW’s wake.
  • Philadelphia is a “Democratic” City.
  • The Wallace family don’t want murder charges, blame City for officers without tasers.
  • The Wallace family suggests some defunding.
  • In public statements, City officials talk mainly about what they will learn from this incident.
  • Quick release of the bodycam videos for the first time in such a case is touted as a sign of the City doing the right thing.
  • In public statements, City officials talk mainly about new or nearly new programs to avoid such incidents in the future.
  • A new program put a behavioral health specialist in the dispatch room, but that person was not there when this call came in.
  • In public statements, City officials focus on their after-the-fact actions to avoid such incidents in the future.
  • In public statements, the sense of City officials is that WW did not die in vain, that good will come from this tragedy.
  • In public statements, the City is in an “after-the-fact” humble, penitent reform mode. A we’ve-got-to-do-better mode.
  • The Police Chief is now requesting a review of the department’s training in handling mentally ill people and is exploring other models to address the problem.
  • The Police Chief pledges reforms by late next year.
  • The Mayor talks about healing for the city not the Wallace family.
  • The Wallace lawyer — himself a former officer  — says police are trained to kill.
  • The Wallace family plans to sue. Past history suggests that they will receive a huge settlement.
  • WW had an “existing relationship” with a mental health organization in the neighborhood that police knew or should have known about.
  • That organization was not contacted that day.
  • That organization had previously offered many times to formally partner with the police department on such mental health calls, but the department did not take them up on their persistent offer.
  • The Twitterverse shows little if any compassion for WW.
  • The Twitterverse suggests that crying “mental health” is a dodge now consciously and artfully employed to excuse individual responsibility.
  • The Twitterverse blames WW for not obeying a lawful order and for being a “criminal.”
  • The Twitterverse opinion is that WW got what he deserved.

What do we see here?

Gadfly feels that one thing we see is system failure, massive system failure.

Gadfly is no “abolitionist,” but he can’t help but feel a tug of truth in the suggestion by the Minneapolis abolitionist at the NCC conference that a police department structure whose only response to tragedies is a cycle of reform in catch-up mode may not be worth supporting.

But, sigh, ok, in this national climate of examining how we do public safety, what should Bethlehem’s response be?


Incident in Philadelphia (9): the “official” response

Latest in a series of posts about the death of Walter Wallace

“The real violence was perpetrated by a knife-wielding man, who confronted our police officers,” [Police Union president] John McNesby said in a statement. “These officers followed their training and police department policy. It’s completely inappropriate that these officers continue to be vilified for doing their job.”


The Mayor
click here, mins. 18-20

Will be announcing new programs. Releasing bodycam footage. Recognizes a feeling that nothing has changed. A willingness to be transparent and accountable is a sign that things must change, are changing. Shining a light that will bring a new day — peace, trust, healing. Open process that will help us heal.

The Police Chief
click here, mins, 25:40-30

After detailing the internal investigative process regarding officer action, calls special attention to explanation of programs (some in process) designed to improve the department’s “service to the community” and about to be implemented with the Department of Behavioral Health, involving deescalation training, a medical health person embedded with dispatch and police radio, implicit bias training, active bystanderdship training (officers intervening with other officers), with a decision-tree for dispatchers.

Behavioral Health official
click here, mins. 30-38

Points to long history of collaboration with police. Innovative initiatives with health-centered approach to law enforcement. Beginning a class with dispatchers next week. Embedded program of mental health specialists. Mental health navigator in dispatch room. Has “Network of Neighbors” coalition. Sadly trauma is ongoing.

The District Attorney

The District Attorney pledged support to the Wallace family, praised them for willingness to release the bodycam footage, and “fought back tears” at the wake, saying, “Philadelphia owes you a lot.”

Incident in Philadelphia (8): the mental health connection (or lack thereof)

Latest in a series of posts about the death of Walter Wallace

The (West Philadelphia) Consortium

The missing link.

Selections from Max Marin and Michaela Winberg, “Philly police rebuffed offers from crisis response center to work together, director says.” BillyPenn, October 29, 2020.

The executive director [John White] of the West Philadelphia Consortium, a mental health crisis response center, can’t escape the feeling he could have saved Walter Wallace Jr.’s life.

Staffers at his center had an existing relationship with the 27-year-old. They knew him and a few of his family members intimately. And their office sits just five blocks from where Wallace was killed by police Monday afternoon.

But they didn’t get the call when he reportedly suffered a mental health breakdown outside his home.

Police did — and it ended in gunfire.

“I’ve been asking myself why,” White said. “There’s a sense of guilt, knowing and believing that if we had been involved we could have made a difference.”

By Outlaw’s [the Philadelphia Police Chief] own admission, the department has failed to build a formal relationship with crisis response providers like the West Philadelphia Consortium, despite what director White describes as persistent requests.

Instead, his organization relies on an informal network of police officers and city residents to summon them to the scene of a crisis.

Upon arrival, these unarmed mental health professionals can offer on-site counseling, medication, transport to a hospital and signups for outpatient care. The teams are experts in de-escalation, White said. In more than 1,200 interventions last year, he said only six resulted in police arresting someone at the scene. None resulted in deaths.

While the city does fund several crisis response providers to help with mental health emergencies, there’s no official connection to the Police Department.

The PPD does not have its own behavioral health unit, either, according to Outlaw. While White told Billy Penn he’s been talking with police officials for months to formally integrate his services, the commissioner wasn’t aware of any such conversations. Asked about this at a briefing Wednesday, she vowed to implement a new unit in the department “as soon as possible.”

“There’s clearly a disconnect on our end in terms of knowing what’s out there,” Outlaw said. “There hasn’t been any coordination.”

A month before Wallace’s death, the PPD began a new program, under which a behavioral health expert is seated in the radio room with 911 dispatchers, who’ll employ a procedure for flagging emergency calls that might have mental health risk.

That point person wasn’t in the room when the emergency calls came in on Monday, according to Commissioner Outlaw.

With a formal system lacking, White started distributing West Philadelphia Consortium contact info directly to police on the ground

As a result of this outreach, which began early last year, many officers in West Philly’s 12th, 16th and 18th police districts know about the consortium’s services. They often call the organization themselves when they know they’re responding to a mental health emergency, White said.

The consortium’s mobile crisis team is made up of two units, three people each: a clinician, a counselor and a nurse practitioner. Each team has its own van, and can respond to a call from the Schuylkill to the end of Cobbs Creek, from City Line Avenue to Philadelphia International Airport, within 10 to 12 minutes, per White.

Even if these teams are first on the scene, called by family or neighbors, they sometimes ask for police assistance if a person needs to be involuntarily brought in for an evaluation.

“The first step is to try to get someone to go in voluntarily,” said Rob Wetherington, an outreach worker and mental health advocate in the city. “We’ve known for a long time the Pandora’s box that can get opened when officers get involved.”

For White, getting experts to the scene quickly is the most important factor to deterring bad outcomes.

“The main purpose is to deescalate tense situations that arise,” White said. “In virtually every situation that we have been involved in, if the assessment does not include a crime, assault or threats to others, the police yield to our judgment.”


Taylor Allen, “Walter Wallace Jr.’s neighbors say bodycam footage reveals systemic problems — and they have solutions.” WHYY, November 6, 2020.

Incident in Philadelphia (7): the subject’s father and mother

Latest in a series of posts about the death of Walter Wallace

The subject’s name was Walter Wallace.

We continue to fill in the picture around the death of Walter Wallace.

The subject’s father asks for respect. “They’re” labeling us — drunks and alcoholics. (2 1/2 mins.)

Selections from Bill Hutchinson, “‘They didn’t give a damn’: Mother of slain Walter Wallace says police knew her son was in a mental crisis.” October 28, 2020.

Police responded to the family’s home three times on the day of the shooting.

The mother of the 27-year-old Philadelphia man who was gunned down by officers Monday in front of his family’s home said police knew he was having a mental crisis because she told them and begged them not to shoot him.

The killing of Walter Wallace Jr. has sparked protests as well as rioting and looting in Philadelphia and beyond, and mirrors what experts say is an ongoing problem nationwide of law enforcement officers using deadly force on mentally ill people.

Wallace’s mother, Cathy Wallace, said police were called to her home three times on Monday but were not able to help her and her family deal with the mental-health emergency her son was experiencing. She said that when officers returned to her home the third time, they ended up shooting her son multiple times when he broke free of her and appeared to step toward two officers with a knife.

“I was telling the police to stop, ‘Don’t shoot my son, please, don’t shoot my son,'” Cathy Wallace said at a news conference Tuesday night. “They paid me no mind and they just shot him.”

She said the first two times the police came to her home on Monday, they only irritated her son, the father of nine children, instead of helping him.

“They weren’t trying to help us, they didn’t give a damn about us,” Cathy Wallace alleged. “My son said, ‘Look at them, they standing there laughing at us.’ So I took my son and I and walked down the street and left the cops standing out there.”

The shooting erupted around 4 p.m. on Monday after Wallace’s brother called 911 and requested an ambulance and medical intervention for Wallace. The police showed up again, Cathy Wallace said, even though the family had only asked for an ambulance.

Regarding her son’s history of mental health issues, Cathy Wallace said “they already knew about it; it’s already on his record,” due to the dozens of times the police had been called to her home in the past.

The shooting erupted around 4 p.m. on Monday after Wallace’s brother called 911 and requested an ambulance and medical intervention for Wallace. The police showed up again, Cathy Wallace said, even though the family had only asked for an ambulance.

“Officers who are properly trained should notice certain things when they arrive at a scene,” Johnson said. “Especially when his wife tells you, ‘Stand down officers, he’s manic bipolar.'”

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at a news conference on Tuesday that the two officers involved in the shooting did not have less-lethal tools, like stun guns, due to a department-wide lack of resources.

“We have to adapt our training,” said Outlaw, who was appointed Philadelphia’s police commissioner in February after serving as chief of the Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended that all Philadelphia officers be issued stun guns to carry at all times. Outlaw said that while the department has equipped many officers with stun guns, it is still working to ensure all 6,300 officers have them.

She said they still need another 2,000 stun guns to equip the entire police force.

Outlaw said during a Zoom news conference on Wednesday afternoon that she has requested a review of the department’s training in handling mentally ill people and is exploring other models to address the problem.

“It’s a plethora of things; it’s not just how we respond to someone with a weapon, it’s how we respond to someone in crisis,” Outlaw said. “And that’s not just at the patrol level. We also need to look at what we’re dispatching, how we’re dispatching, the types of questions that we’re asking, what information is relayed to responding officers to help us determine response, and then shall we require a supervisor to be in route as well to assist with scene coordination?”

A study published this year in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law found that of the nearly 1,000 people shot by police officers in 2018, a quarter of them had a mental illness.

Although officers are trained to handle tense situations, foiling a robbery or assault is not the same as someone who is in deep mental distress.

“Police officers who are trained as paramilitary may not recognize a mental health crisis and treat it as something else,” Akhu said.

Incident in Philadelphia (5): the body cams

Latest in a series of posts about the death of Walter Wallace

The subject’s name was Walter Wallace.

Let’s start the week with a bang.

Walter Wallace died in this incident with the Philadelphia Police on October 26. It’s the kind of classic mental health incident that occasions debate about the nature of policing. Gadfly had been providing info without commentary till a little matter of a presidential election took precedence last week. During that “break,” however, the body cam video was released and a major press conference was held. So let’s pick up once again with canvassing all the information on the case. Click “Walter Wallace” under Topics on the right-hand sidebar to catch up on past posts.

Here is the long-awaited body cam videos from the two officers spliced together.

The Philadelphia police department publicly released the bodycam footage in a police shooting for the very first time in its history in an effort to improve transparency.

The action plays out in less than a minute.

In addition, here is the viral on-the-scene spectator twitter video that we’ve seen before but this time we get a glimpse of his mother (we think) over the dying Wallace on the ground.

And the range of twitter comments should not be missed.


Vanessa Roma, “Philadelphia Police Release ‘Traumatic’ Bodycam Video Of Walter Wallace Jr. Shooting.” November 4, 2020.

Erin Donaghue, “Philadelphia officials release bodycam video and 911 calls in police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr.” November 5, 2020.

Jenny Gross, “What We Know About the Death of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia.” New York Times, November 4, 2020.

Incident in Philadelphia (4)

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

The subject’s name was Walter Wallace.

Gadfly’s been holding off on commenting on this recent incident that he referenced at the Thursday Committee of the Whole meeting, waiting for the official press conference. That’s not scheduled till next Wednesday now. Long time a’coming. Gadfly suggests that you read along in the meantime, though, for you will recognize now classic issues that he feels we should be discussing locally.


Paul Mickelson. “Readers React: We need better mental health policies.” Morning Call, October 30, 2020.

“Philly curfew now in effect till 6 a.m.; 4 councilmembers push for more police budget cuts.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 30, 2020.

“Amid civil unrest, National Guard arrives in Philadelphia,” Associated Press, Morning Call, October 31, 2020.

Maryclaire Dale, “Lawyer: Mom, child trapped in crowd when police smashed car,” Associated Press, October 30, 2020.


Incident in Philadelphia (3)

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

The subject’s name was Walter Wallace.

Gadfly has refrained from extended comment on this October 26 incident — which he referenced centrally in his brief comments at City Council last night — waiting for a major press conference and a sense that all (or most!) of the relevant facts are in. Gadfly suggests you read what’s available for now and begin to gather your thoughts.

Gadfly invites suggestions for other news sources to read:

Maryclaire Dale, “Philadelphia police face rebuke from city, Wallace family.” Associated Press, October 29, 2020.

Walter Wallace Jr.’s family does not want officers who shot him to face murder charges, attorney says.” CNN, October 29, 2020.

, “Philadelphia shooting is just the latest case in a long history of mental health crisis calls that turned deadly in the US.” CNN, October 29, 2020.

Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance

Incident in Philadelphia (2)

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

The subject’s name was Walter Wallace.

Gadfly invites suggestions for other news sources to read:

Robert Klemko, et al, “Philadelphia imposes curfew, calls in National Guard as protests continue over Walter Wallace shooting.” Washington Post, October 28, 2020.

Eric Levenson, “What we know about the Philadelphia Police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr.” CNN, October 28, 2020.

Lehigh Valley Good Neighbors Alliance

Incident in Philadelphia (1)

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

The subject’s name was Walter Wallace.

Brakkton Booker and Vanessa Romo, “Fatal Police Shooting In Philadelphia Sparks Protests, Clashes Overnight.” NPR, October 27, 2020.

Azi Paybarah and Protests in Philadelphia After Police Fatally Shoot Black Man.” New York Times, October 27, 2020.

Rachel Elbaum, Kurt Chirbas, Colin Sheeley and Julie Goldstein, “Black man shot dead by police in Philadelphia, sparking heated protests.” NBC News, October 27, 2020.

Jordan Freiman and Brian Dakss, “Police fatally shoot Black man, sparking violent protests in Philadelphia.” CBS News, October 27, 2020.

 “Philadelphia police shooting of Black man sparks unrest.” Associated Press, October 26, 2020.