According to the ordinance, the board’s purpose is “to develop a more transparent police department through review of and recommendations to the Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) on policies, procedures, and practices.”
The committee was part of an overall effort by the Fort Worth Task Force on Race and Culture, which made recommendations about police oversight in 2018.
Another result was the creation of the Office of Police Oversight Monitor and the hiring of its first director, Kim Neal, in 2020. Neal will be leaving the office in late November to take a position in Virginia.
“Please let me do the job I was hired to do,” Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes told the city council at its work session on November 1.
He opposes the creation of the new body, saying in his experience these groups tend to be “adversarial in nature” and “harm community and police relations” rather than help them.
He pointed out that the board, if created, would not include any members of the police force.
In fact, the requirements for membership on the board as listed in the proposed ordinance would prohibit any current or former city employee, any law enforcement officer in another jurisdiction, and anyone related to a current or former Fort Worth police officer.
It also requires the makeup of the committee “have diverse community perspectives including advocates in the areas of civil rights, mental health, disability, immigration, homelessness, LGBTQ, legal education and historically marginalized communities defined as incarcerated, diverse racial/ethnic communities.”
The nine members would be appointed by the city council, one from each of the council districts. The size of the board will increase to 11 after the new council is seated in 2023 as a result of city growth.
The proposed committee seems to fit the definition of a “review-focused model” as defined by the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE.)
“In their most basic form, review-focused agencies provide community members outside of and unaffiliated with the law enforcement agency with an opportunity to review the quality of misconduct complaint investigations performed by the overseen department,” NACOLE’s website reads.
Review-focused models made up 62 percent of the police oversight committees in the country, according to NACOLE.
The other two models are investigation-focused and auditor-focused.
The lengthy discussion at the work session included comments by multiple council members.
Councilmember Chris Nettles (District 8) has been campaigning for a board like this for several years. “It is no secret that there is an issue of trust with the Fort Worth Police Department,” Nettles said, adding that he believes this new board would create greater accountability for and confidence in the city’s police force.
Councilmember Elizabeth Beck (District 9) also supports the ordinance. She argued it is very similar to an existing police advisory committee that was created under the general orders of the police department.
Instead of the existing committee having a membership selected by the chief of police, the new one’s membership would be appointed by the city council, Beck noted.
She also pointed out that the ordinance requires formalized training requirements for the committee’s members.
While Noakes agreed that the current police advisory committee is “woefully inadequate,” especially regarding citizen representation, he disagreed with the need for the proposed independent review panel.
He pointed out that he was chosen as the new police chief because of his reputation for collaboration and innovation, and that he has been working to “right the ship.”
Beck responded to Noakes saying she was “disappointed” in the chief’s opposition to the proposal and found him to be “disingenuous” in claiming to want citizen engagement and input but not accepting the council’s blueprint for doing so.
Councilmember Jared Williams (District 6) voiced his support for the proposed ordinance, saying it follows the structure of other advisory commissions the city already has in place, like planning and zoning.
In his remarks about the proposal, Councilmember Carlos Flores (District 2) posed questions about the way the ordinance is written and how it differs from the model promulgated by NACOLE. He urged the council to “be careful” and implement “incremental change.”
Alan Blaylock, representing District 4, said he’d be researching the issue and that he was not supportive of the ordinance as written.
District 7 Councilmember Leonard Firestone expressed his support for the police and noted that the council has designated millions of dollars to support greater transparency and interaction between FWPD and the community.
According to Firestone, the majority of calls to his district office are from residents wanting more police presence.
Beck and Nettles both disputed the truth of Firestone’s claims about a lack of police distrust in District 7.
In her remarks, Mayor Pro Tempore Gyna Bivens (District 5) said she supported the creation of the Police Policy Advisory Committee and that perhaps Fort Worth’s ordinance could be a model that other cities would admire.
Neither Michael Crain (District 3) nor Mayor Mattie Parker expressed an opinion or gave input about the proposal.
The city council will vote on the proposal tomorrow, November 8, at its meeting at 6:00 p.m.
Update: The ordinance creating a community police advisory board failed by a vote of 5 to 4 on Tuesday night after hours of public comments and discussion.
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Kim Roberts is a regional 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.