“I don’t want to say that race played a part in it,” she added. “But it did.”
The shooting of Major Dale, 61, got little attention until this month, when the state attorney general’s office released videos of the episode filmed by officers’ body-worn and dashboard cameras. The office is leading an investigation into the matter, and a grand jury will be asked to consider charges against the officers, as New Jersey law requires after a fatal police encounter.
Whatever the inquiry yields, the fatal shooting of Major Dale feeds into the continuing debate over whether armed officers are the best people to send on emergency calls to help people in mental distress.
That debate grew amid the broader protests against police misconduct that sprang up last year after the killing of George Floyd. Police departments in various cities, including New York, responded by starting to have social workers and medics answer some 911 calls for mental health emergencies. On Wednesday, Newark added 10 social workers to respond to such calls. Other cities, including Albuquerque and, in perhaps the longest-running example, Eugene, Ore., had already started moving that way.
Tina Hawkins, Major Dale’s former supervisor in the equal opportunity office at the Picatinny Arsenal, an Army facility in New Jersey, said the police had overreacted in confronting him.
“They didn’t have to come out with guns a-blazing the way they did,” she said.
Ms. Cobbertt agreed, noting that the Newton police had responded differently during a January episode involving an 80-year-old white man who is accused of firing twice at officers in a parking garage after calling to report that he had a gun and planned to kill himself. The officers did not fire at the man, who was taken to a hospital for evaluation after being arrested and is charged with attempted murder.