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Fort Worth Moves Toward Community Police Oversight Board

Fort Worth established an office of the police oversight monitor and hired a police monitor eight months ago. Over the last several months, the monitor’s office has engaged in many sessions and surveys to receive community and police feedback about the relationship between the community and police.

From those sessions, Kim Neal, the head of the Office of Police Oversight Monitor (OPOM), recommended this week that the city move forward with establishing a “mutual accountability group,” which would be charged with making recommendations and taking a “deep dive” into the policies and procedures of the Fort Worth Police Department.

The accountability group would be established in a two-step process: first, a “working group,” appointed by the city manager and OPOM, will consider and recommend the make-up and duties of the permanent board to the Fort Worth City Council in February or March of 2021. The council would then accept or amend those recommendations for the creation of the permanent “mutual accountability group.”

Responses to this plan for an accountability group varied among council members. Councilman Cary Moon seemed skeptical saying, “I feel like we already have a community oversight board in the mayor and council,” who he said are accountable to residents every day. 

“We’ve had our failings, but we’ve also had a lot of success,” Moon added, pointing to bans on chokeholds and de-escalation training that the city council approved.

Councilwoman Gyna Bivens supported Neal’s recommendations saying, “I think it’s important that we all recognize the City of Fort Worth has some good policies in place, but let us not be mistaken into believing we skipped all the way to getting to this level that some might consider success. But for protests, but for people letting us know of problems, those changes wouldn’t be where they are now.”  

She believes much progress is still needed and that “the voices of people who have been oppressed and treated unfairly” need to be heard.

A survey conducted by the OPOM showed very different perceptions of community police oversight: 52.6 percent of community respondents believe it will help a lot, whereas 54.5 percent of police surveyed believe it won’t help at all.

Additionally, Neal explained that the community engagement over the last few months made clear that similar engagement should remain a top priority and that communities most impacted by policing can be “the most challenging to reach and tend to express lack of equitable treatment by police.”

The Fort Worth Task Force on Race and Culture made 22 recommendations in 2018, including civilian oversight of the police department. The killing of Atatiana Jefferson by a police officer in Fort Worth last year again raised concerns about police policies and practices.  

Civilian oversight boards can be traced back to the 1920s, but the modern formulation which examines systemic complaints and critical incidents took shape in the 1990s and has been steadily growing around the country, according to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

Groups like Black Lives Matter Fort Worth called on the Fort Worth City Council to establish a  civilian oversight board this summer after the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“There is little, if any, empirical research on the effectiveness of civilian oversight of the police—nor are the programs subjected to any systematic evaluation,” a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services stated in 2018.

Fort Worth is also currently engaged in a search for a new police chief, with the retirement of current Chief Ed Kraus at the end of the year or when the city hires a replacement. The city expects to interview finalists during the first half of January 2021. 

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