Plan to give tasers to all Philly cops could come this week, Mayor Kenney says

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — The Kenney administration is moving forward with a plan to outfit all police officers with Tasers following the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia that sparked protests and civil unrest.

The Kenney administration expects to give City Council a proposal next week for a multi-year contract with a manufacturer to provide all officers with Tasers, Kenney spokesman Mike Dunn said in an email Thursday.

If legislators approve of the contract and it is in place in December, the city could receive all the Tasers by the end of the year, Dunn said. The department could begin distributing Tasers to officers in early 2021 after they receive training.

The first year cost for the Tasers would be about $900,000, which is included in the current budget, Dunn said.

Approximately 2,301 officers are trained to carry Tasers in a department with approximately 6,500 cops.

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The ongoing discussions with the Taser manufacturer prevented the Kenney administration from putting forward the proposal sooner, Dunn said. He did not identify the manufacturer.

“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.

Council President Darrell Clarke previously has pledged to approve a Kenney administration request to outfit officers with Tasers.

Joe Grace, a Clarke spokesman, declined to comment.

The Wallace family has demanded that the city provide every officer with a Taser, among other police reforms.

Two Philadelphia police officers fatally shot Wallace, who was wielding a knife, during a confrontation on Oct. 26. The officers were not outfitted with Tasers. Wallace was said to be suffering from a mental crisis and had bipolar disorder, according to his family.

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Wallace’s killing sparked days of protests and civil unrest, including looting, in Philadelphia and other U.S. cities. National Guard troops were called into the city soon after. The troops left Philadelphia late Sunday night and Monday morning.

Shaka Johnson, a lead attorney for the Wallace family, did not return a request seeking comment.

The police department currently has a five-year, $14 million plan to outfit all officers with Tasers, which deliver an electric shock that temporarily stuns the target. Kenney’s proposal would accelerate that funding plan.

The mayor plans to lump that funding for the Tasers into his proposed fiscal 2022 budget in March. The new fiscal year begins on June 1, 2021. City Council will have to sign off on the budget proposal, too.

During Thursday’s council session, legislators approved a non-binding resolution about Wallace’s killing that triggered a rare clash among members.

The resolution, which passed on a voice vote, called for the Police Department and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) to boost reliance on trained behavioral health providers when responding to 911 calls so as to properly identify individuals who are experiencing mental or behavioral issues.

Councilman Curtis Jones (D-4), the main sponsor of the resolution, said the partnership between police and DBHIDS was the “future, we believe, of police-community interaction.”

But Councilman Brian O’Neill, of District 10, faulted Jones’ resolution for stating that the two officers did not attempt to use other non-lethal tactics, such as a Taser, because the officers were not equipped with the weapons. O’Neill said he did vote in favor of the resolution.

“First of all, it’s inaccurate,” O’Neill said about the addition of that statement in the resolution. “Because, one, we don’t know if a Taser can be used when somebody’s wielding a knife.”

O’Neill added: “But it’s actually inaccurate and wrong to say that they [the officers] had a choice in using a Taser. Whether it could have been effective or not is not the issue. They didn’t have them; they weren’t trained in them.”

Weeks before Wallace’s killing, the behavioral health department initiated a new program to embed trained mental health service providers with 911 operators.

The Kenney administration modified the program to provide crisis intervention training to 911 call-takers following the fatal police shooting.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared