In her first year, Neal has endeavored to build the OPOM by engaging with community groups, the police department, and the Texas A&M Law School in Fort Worth.
Neal arrived in Fort Worth ready to engage the community about civilian oversight for the police force but was inhibited by the outbreak of coronavirus. Nevertheless, she found ways to host virtual community collaboration sessions with groups all over the city. Those meetings would then lead to additional meetings as attendees recommended other groups with which Neal could engage.
Besides explaining the purpose of civilian oversight and her vision for enhancing the relationship between civilians and the police force at the meetings, she asked the groups to consider “what can you do to contribute to the enhancement of those relationships.” Neal says she has held nearly 200 of these community meetings and plans to hold more this summer.
A survey of both police and the community was also conducted last summer. Over 3,000 community members participated in the survey with 62 percent indicating they have a positive view of the Fort Worth Police Department’s (FWPD) performance. Additionally, a majority of respondents said they felt that community police oversight was very important.
A majority of police who responded to the survey believe that ongoing de-escalation training is needed.
One of the most popular aspects of some of the community meetings was opportunities for police and civilians to work together through a proposed problem or scenario. Neal said it would propose a set of questions or have the group rank key initiatives in order of importance for improving community and police relationships.
She said that she has a good relationship with the new Fort Worth police chief, Neil Noakes, whom she began working with while he was a deputy chief.
“We meet on a regular basis to talk about how to work on complaints,” Neal told The Texan.
A Texas A&M Law School internship program has been successful, according to Neal. Student interns have been serving in the OPOM since last fall.
“The students have done research and put in many hours that the staff just couldn’t have done,” Neal pointed out. They have been researching possible mediation programs to deal with some of the complaints the office receives.
“The internship also helps with a future pool to recruit from,” Neal pointed out.
In December, a mutual accountability working group began meeting to determine what a civilian oversight board in Fort Worth should look like. It met every two weeks this spring to consider a name for the oversight board, who will appoint members to the board, what the process for an appointment will be, and what kind of training the board members will have.
Neal said the accountability working group has a few more items to finish before presenting the plan to the city council for its approval sometime this summer.
A future program Neal hopes to implement is a “Know Your Rights” program. In it, students or community members would play out some scenarios with police officers to help both understand how to interact in various situations.
In addition, the OPOM will monitor oral review boards of new FWPD recruits. Neal explained that the board consists of “questions to ensure a recruit is ready to be a police officer and could do so fair and equitably.”
The OPOM personnel listens not only to the recruits’ answers but also to the questions the board asks and can follow up with FWPD with any concerns they note.
Neal said she expects to present an annual report of the OPOM activities to the city council this summer after the new mayor and council members are seated.
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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.