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November 13, 2020

Philadelphia accelerates plan to get Tasers for police; Kenney to make proposal next week

The family of Walter Wallace Jr., the bipolar man shot and killed by officers in October, is advocating this reform

Government Police
philadelphia_police_shooting_walter_wallace.original.jpg Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to send a proposal to City Council next week to equip all officers Tasers and the proper training. The move comes after the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in October.

More Philadelphia police officers could have Tasers as soon as early next year, if a plan from the Kenney administration is approved.

Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to send a proposal to City Council next week seeking equip all officers with Tasers and provide training, the Philadelphia Tribune reported. The move comes in the wake of the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. by police. Currently, less than half of the officers in the department are trained to carry Tasers or similar stun guns.

If approved, a multi-year contract with a stun gun manufacturer could be in place by December and the department could distribute the less-than-lethan weapons to officers in early 2021 after training is completed.

Wallace, who had bipolar disorder,  was killed by officers on Oct. 26 after he welded a knife in a West Philly street. Police had arrived at the scene after his family had called 911 seeking a mental health intervention. The officers, who did not have stun guns, shot and killed Wallace, firing at least 14 rounds at him when he did not follow orders to drop his weapon.

His death was followed by several days for protests in Philadelphia, some of which devolved into civil unrest and incidents of looting.

Following Wallace’s death, the police department’s Officer Involved Shooting Investigation unit and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office began an investigation into the shooting. They later released body cam footage and the 911 calls from the fatal incident.

Acquiring Tasers was already on the police department’s agenda — it currently has a five-year, $14 million plan to phase in Tasers for all officers. Kenney’s proposal would accelerate that plan.

These Tasers cost about $900,000 for the first year, which is included in the budget, Mayor's office spokesman Mike Dunn told the Philadelphia Tribune.

“We are fully behind this effort to fully deploy Tasers, and the delay should not be interpreted as indicative of anything other (than) the fact that it takes time to work out details,” Dunn said.

Equipping officers with stun guns is just one possible police reform coming to the city. On Thursday, City Council approved a resolution that calls for more reliance on trained behavioral health providers when responding to 911 calls to properly identify mental or behavioral issues.

Councilman Curtis Jones sponsored the resolution and said this would create a partnership between the police department and the city’s Department of Behavioral and Intellectual disAbility Services that was the “future, we believe, of police-community interaction.”