A dozen police reform issues were the subject of discussion at a Fort Worth City Council work session on Tuesday. These issues have been presented by various groups to the city’s leadership since the death of George Floyd in late May.
Some of the groups include Black Lives Matter Fort Worth, FW4Change, Black Love Fort Worth, and United Fort Worth.
Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa led the presentation about city and Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) policies and actions that may be taken in the future to address some of the groups’ concerns.
He began by acknowledging some past incidents and the city’s responses.
After a December 2016 confrontation between a police officer and black resident Jacqueline Craig, the city established the Task Force on Race and Culture, which continues to make recommendations to the city every quarter.
After the killing of Atatiana Jefferson by a police officer in October 2019, the city manager appointed an outside panel of policing experts to conduct an independent review of the FWPD policies and procedures. The preliminary report is expected in August.
Issue 1: Establish a community oversight board
In March, Fort Worth hired a new Police Oversight Monitor as part of the civilian oversight recommendation made by the Task Force on Race and Culture. Kim Neal, who held a similar position in Cincinnati before coming to Fort Worth, said that the office has created an email address and phone number for receiving inquiries and complaints from the public. They have also begun investigating complaints and have been meeting with community groups to determine how to improve relations between the FWPD and residents.
“This role allows us to really get at the systemic concerns of the community and address those through effective problem solving,” Neal told the council.
Issue 2: Remove all police funding from the Crime Control and Prevention District (CCPD) and significantly reduce funding from the general fund and redirect to social services
The city staff, as it works on the budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, is reviewing ways to redistribute resources. It also is considering expanding certain programs like its crisis intervention teams, its HOPE unit, which works with homeless people, and its partnership with agencies which provide social services that prevent crime.
An election for Fort Worth residents regarding the continuation of the CCPD is coming up on July 14. The CCPD “provides revenue from a ½-cent sales tax dedicated to funding programs aimed at reducing and preventing crime in Fort Worth,” according to the city’s website.
The FY 2021 city budget will be presented to the city council for consideration on August 11.
Issue 3: Remove police officers from schools
The city has existing contracts with Fort Worth ISD and several other school districts to provide school resource officers which they must honor, Costa explained. The school districts must decide whether to request the officers be removed from the schools.
“We are willing to engage in discussions about how to best utilize school resource officers,” Costa added.
Police Chief Ed Kraus pointed out that it is “important to remember why we put officers in the schools in the first place” to protect students after school shootings like Columbine and more recently at Sante Fe High School in Southeast Texas.
He reported that over 500 tips about possible threats were investigated last school year. From January through March of this school year, the police made twelve misdemeanor arrests. In contrast, the school resource officers made over 400 anti-gang presentations and had over 800 mentorship interactions.
“The police aren’t just there to protect students, but to provide mentorship,” Kraus said.
Issue 4: Create Crisis Diversion Centers
The city admits that police officers are not best-equipped to deal with mental health problems and supports investigating other models for dealing with these crises.
However, state law requires that officers take a person in danger to himself to the nearest in-patient mental health facility, Costa added.
Issue 5: Police Training
The groups demanded that police training include subject matter experts on weapons training, rules of engagement, and disarmament, semi-annual recertification, and training in a culturally-relevant set of values.
Kraus pointed out that FWPD provides its recruits with over twice the number of hours of training as is required by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).
The training includes speaking with citizens who have had negative interactions with police to get their perspective.
New recruits have also recently been trained on the duty to intervene when another officer is using excessive force, Kraus said.
FWPD has been accredited by the Texas Police Chiefs Association and was one of six cities to participate in 2015 in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.
This initiative included free training for officers, including training on implicit biases.
Kraus said that FWPD has banned neck restraints and chokeholds “for some time.”
Issue 6: Over Policing and Occupation of Black Communities in Fort Worth
Kraus pointed out that FWPD has neighborhood police officers whose function is to coordinate with the neighborhood residents to resolve “quality of life” issues.
“We do deploy extra resources where there are crime spikes,” Kraus said, adding that he believed it would be irresponsible not to do so.
Police cameras have been placed in various places around the city. Kraus explained that they help not only with solving crime after the fact, but can help prepare an officer in real-time when arriving at the scene.
When meetings were held in neighborhoods about the placement of cameras, Kraus said many participants supported the cameras and asked for more.
While FWPD is required to follow immigration law, Kraus added that they are not proactively looking for people who are residing in Fort Worth illegally.
Regarding deadly force being used against a fleeing suspect, Kraus said that it is only used if the suspect is a continuing threat, as in an active shooter scenario.
Issue 7: Host a Town Hall with the theme of “Black Lives Matter” for the Community
The Police Oversight Monitor, Kim Neal, has begun virtual collaboration sessions with community groups about many of these concerns but is aiming to have an in-person forum in July.
Mayor Betsy Price said she would like to see the town hall forum broken down into small groups of 100 persons or fewer and focused on two or three issues so that the dialogue can be more constructive.
On June 26 and 27, “End Racism Now” will be painted on the 800 block of Main Street, just north of the Fort Worth Convention Center. The effort is organized by local artists Letitia and Sedrick Huckaby.
Issue 8: Limit Scope and Influence of Police Officers Association
In 2006, the city held an election and citizens voted to allow police officers to form a union and have collective bargaining rights, Costa pointed out.
Additionally, the First Amendment protects the Police Officers Association’s right to lobby about certain issues and to make campaign contributions, he added.
Issue 9: Reveal Disciplinary History of Officers
Laetitia Brown, attorney for the City of Fort Worth, explained that state law controls when disciplinary records can be released. If an officer is removed from the force for one day or more due to a disciplinary action, then the record can be released upon request. Any reprimand or disciplinary action that does not result in any days off are considered confidential and can not be released, she said.
She further stated that FWPD conducts comprehensive background investigations on all of its candidates, including psychiatric examinations.
Issue 10: Financial Penalties for Misconduct Paid by Officer
The City of Fort Worth is obligated under state law to pay for the defense of any officer who is sued for a civil rights violation for actions taken while performing his duties, Brown said. However, the city does not pay any judgment levied against the officer by a jury who finds him or her guilty of misconduct.
Issue 11: Expunge Arrest Records of Protestors Associated with George Floyd
Chief Kraus explained that charges for the Class B misdemeanor of rioting were dropped against any individual who stayed at the protest after it was declared unlawful, but who didn’t take any further violent actions such as destroying property or launching dangerous objects at police.
He said that a letter about the dropped charges was provided to those individuals and can be used to seek an expunction of the arrest from their record under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure section 55.01(a).
Some groups asked him to not arrest future protestors, but Kraus said he could not make such an agreement for future events where crimes might take place.
Issue 12: Advocate for a Public Defender’s Office in Tarrant County
Public defender is the function of state and county government, not the city, explained Brown. She said that normally, the city does not involve itself in county functions.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
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.