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GPD and mental health professionals discuss collaboration efforts following death of Walter Wallace, Jr.

Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 7:50 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Protestors have taken to the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, following an officer-involved shooting that killed a Black man who police say was waving a knife for the past few days.

On October 26th, the video on the internet showed the moments before officers fatally shot Walter Wallace, Jr. Wallace’s family says he struggled with mental health issues and argue authorities should have made more attempts to de-escalate the encounter.

Back in August, a mental health center, Greenville Police, and the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office collaborated to team up when responding to sensitive calls. You can read about that story here.

Keith Hamm, with Integrated Family Services in Greenville, says their team works to de-escalate sensitive calls.

“It’s the power of having people that you can obviously tell care about you, who are there to try to help. And, often, that’s one of the greatest de-escalation tools we have,” Hamm said.

Hamm says they respond to anywhere from four to ten calls a week.

“When law enforcement receives a call involving mental health or, perhaps, substance abuse, they will contact mobile crisis and have us accompany them to that call, because, often times, we’re going to find that it’s more appropriate to have a mental health professional on the call than it is for law enforcement, quite honestly," Hamm said.

Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman says when they get a crisis call, officers show up to secure and stabilize the scene and try to deescalate, and mobile crisis shows up later to divert the case from the emergency room.

Communications calls mobile crisis through the hotline number.

He says officers have crisis intervention training, but they’re not experts.

Holtzman says things get critical when police get called multiple times, which Philadelphia police say happened with Wallace.

Holtzman said the evening is harder to get the on-call staff. He says the goal is to get help there quicker.

“Where mobile crisis will respond directly with us to the scene, and get there, really within minutes after an officer arrives on the scene, which is really what we need,” said Holtzman

And both plan to continue the development of their relationship,

“If we could get the word out, it would prevent a lot of things from happening that don’t need to happen,” Hamm said.

Greenville Police say they are still working toward the co-responder model, where staff responds in-tandem with police. Responding with officers means the team drives to the scene, works right along with officers, and perhaps even frees the officers to go back on patrol and keeps everyone out of the hospital. Program leaders hope to be ready over the next few weeks to months.

Here’s the mobile crisis phone number: 1-866-437-1821. Counselors are available in different locations in the East.

Philadelphia police say the officers in the case did not have tasers, and investigators are still gathering details of what happened.

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