The expert review panel that has been engaged in assessing policies and practices of the Fort Worth Police Department presented its preliminary observations during the Fort Worth’s city council work session this week. It expects to release its final report and recommendations in October.
The panel, appointed by city manager David Cooke in November, is led by Dr. Theron Bowman and Dr. Alex Delcarmen. It also includes six other members who have various connections to civil rights groups and law enforcement.
During its initial review, the panel met with and interviewed many officers and leaders in the police department, Bowman told the city council.
“We didn’t talk to a single officer who wasn’t committed to doing the right thing on the street,” Bowman pointed out.
The recommendations cover six areas and are meant to “build trust, improve internal accountability, and ensure that police services are delivered in a manner that reflects the community’s values.”
First, the use of force policies of the department are well-written to emphasize the sanctity of human life, justice, and that community members be treated with dignity and respect. However, the panel asserted that officers’ conduct in the community does not “uniformly adhere to these policies.”
Among its recommendations in this area was to strengthen the accountability system and make clear that de-escalation is required where appropriate and a failure to do so is a serious violation subject to discipline. It also recommended revising Taser policies and training.
Chief Ed Kraus pointed out that the department is already beginning to implement changes in this area by adding “failure to de-escalate” to the disciplinary matrix for officers.
Second, the panel found that FWPD struggles in its community relations, especially in low-income areas of the city and with minority communities, noting that the issues don’t necessarily arise from the highly-publicized officer involved shootings, like that of Atatiana Jefferson last fall.
As part of its recommendations, the panel emphasized the value of the Office of Police Monitor, a position created earlier this year and recently filled by Kim Neal. The panel also recommended that the Neighborhood Police Officer Program continue to be revised and strengthened.
Third, the department’s crisis intervention team is not functional, according to the panel of experts, pointing to its availability only on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a lack of established protocols for referring those in need to service providers.
Kraus agreed that the team is too small and said that they have expanded it to 20 officers and covering two shifts, seven days a week. “We are committed to addressing these points as best we can,” he said.
Fourth, the panel found that the department’s accountability system was too fractured, hampering its effectiveness in ensuring disciple is applied consistently. Therefore, among other things, it recommended that the Internal Affairs practices be revised and increase training for Internal Affairs Detectives.
Fifth, the report included a commendation of the department’s leadership for its investment in developing and updating department policies, training, technology, and facilities. It, however, encouraged the revision of practices to ensure that the department reflects “racial, gender, LGBT status, disability, and other diversity of the community.”
Finally, while the department consistently and effectively collects data, the panel found that it fails to effectively utilize the data to identify strengths and weaknesses in its “training, supervision, policy, tactics, and accountability.” It recommended adopting a mechanism to include collected data in the ongoing discussion about improving the FWPD.
Fort Worth plans to present its operating budget to the city council on August 11. The budget may include changes to the FWPD budget as demanded by groups like Black Lives Matter. Cooke also said there is a planned workshop on “Diversity and Equity and Police-Related Programs” scheduled for August 14.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.