Crime in Fort Worth: New approaches to policing

Neil Noakes courtesy FWPD

Part 4 of a series on Crime in Fort Worth

FWBP:  What’s on the horizon?

Noakes: There’s a lot of things we want to do. We want to do more community engagement and community inclusion.

We want to do a lot of great things to build relationships in the community but really the fundamental job of any police organization is to make the citizens safe. Make sure the businesses in the area are safe. Make sure we provide a safe environment where people feel safe in their own neighborhoods. That is our primary mission right now, is reducing the violent personal crime.

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It really comes down to three easy things, safety, wellness, and resiliency. That’s about the safety, wellness, and resiliency of the department and of the communities we serve.

I use this example a lot, if you’re in an airplane and you’re going through the steps with the flight attendant in the beginning about what you would do in an emergency situation, they say if the masks fall in front of you, put your own on first. If you’re not okay, if you can’t breathe, you’re no good to anyone else.

We want to make sure our officers are safe, have the training and equipment they need to get the job done safely, that they are well, and that’s holistic wellness. That’s not just physical fitness. Talking about their mental and emotional wellbeing, their social wellbeing, financial wellbeing. Anything we can do to make them holistically well, that’s what we have to do.

courtesy city

Then the resilient piece is once you get them there, you have to keep them there. We have to have mechanisms in place to make sure we’re checking in with officers, to make sure that they’re okay holistically and resilient against a lot of the things that they see every day on the job. Once our officers are more safe, well and resilient, they’re going to be better able to serve and make sure our communities are safe, well, and resilient.

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Part of that safety component, obviously involves enforcement. Part of what we do is put people in jail, that’s just what we have to do. There are people out in the streets that don’t need to be out in the streets because the crimes they’re committing.

I like what city manager Cooke mentioned earlier about prevention. If there’s a way we can prevent a crime from happening, or prevent a young person from being involved in crime, or intervene in someone who’s maybe on that path but we can get them turned a different way, that’s obviously preferable.

If we can have positive interactions on the front end, that negates the need for negative interaction on the backend, that’s what we want to do. But we give all those opportunities to people and those who still choose to commit the crimes, we’ll definitely take enforcement action where necessary.

FWBP: The crime rates are up, what is the solve rate been like? Has that stayed the same?

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Noakes: Great story about that. Just before Chief Ed Kraus left, we were all working on trying to find ways to deal with violent personal crime and I want everyone to know, this has been an ongoing effort. This isn’t something all the sudden since I became chief we decided, “Oh we better do something about this.” We have been working on this for quite some time.

We looked at some other cities to see how the other cities were also experiencing these spikes in violent crime we’re dealing with and we found some agencies, like Denver, I think Oklahoma City, just a couple of examples who looked at the way they were investigating non-fatal shootings.

Really the only difference between a fatal shooting, a homicide, and a non-fatal shooting oftentimes is luck, either good luck on the part of the victim, maybe the shot wasn’t placed well, maybe they were able to get medical attention right away. Or bad luck on the part of the shooter, the intended murderer.

What they found was those non-fatal shootings were being investigated by the general assignment detectives who were also overloaded with thefts, with harassments, with criminal mischief cases. They didn’t have the time to really dedicate the kind of investigative time they needed to solve these crimes. They created non-fatal shootings investigative teams. What they were able to do is take their clearance rate on non-fatal shootings to an incredible level.

We started the same thing here. We have detectives, some of our best and brightest, who are investigating these non-fatal shootings exactly the way our homicide investigators investigate homicides.

We were below 20% clearance rate on our non-fatal shootings. They’ve only been in existence for a month and a half now, and they’re approaching 80% on their clearance rates. They’ve got multiple guns off the street, they’ve arrested multiple violent actors who were non-fatal shooters … who have actually committed homicides.

While doing this they’ve also gotten a significant amount of drugs off the street as well.

They’re doing amazing things and the work that they’re doing we fully believe is going to help bring down not only the aggravated assaults, but bring down the homicides as well because usually ones that are committing those crimes are oftentimes the same people.

Once we get some data to really review and look back and see how things are going, the plan is as we’re able to increase the numbers in that unit, give them some more resources and they can do even more good.

FWBP: You mentioned a staffing study earlier. Are we in line with comparable cities?

Noakes: We’re tracking pretty close with a lot of the other large agencies. Some agencies that are about the same size have considerably more but you’re talking places like Baltimore, Chicago, where the ratios different but the crime rate is absolutely insane.

For instance where we had 115 and that was outrageous for us as far as homicide numbers. They’ve been looking at over 300 annually in places like Baltimore. You can’t compare 100% that way because the crime rate isn’t exactly the same, but we track pretty closely.

FWBP:  We have been hearing allegations that the city has not been open about the increase in homicide rate. How do you respond to this allegation that you’re being non transparent about it?

Noakes:  I believe we’re being very transparent. Matter of fact a lot of these numbers we’re talking about are on our website. We put it out there, anyone who wants to see it can see it, don’t even have to request the numbers. We put them out there because we’re trying to be as transparent as possible.

I actually sat through several news stories where I’ve seen them talking about violent personal crime and the way the numbers are going up with homicides. There will be some who won’t be happy with what we do and that’s okay. That’s their opinion and I respect that. But personally I believe we’ve been very transparent about it. Any time we’re asked, we’ve given the numbers. We didn’t even wait to be asked, we post those numbers online.

Cooke: I was going to be redundant. I think the city and the police department have been incredibly transparent. That information is all out there, we’re not trying to hide from any of the information or the data and we respond to any and all requests about any of the incidents as well.

FWBP: Has there been any change in where violent crimes are occurring in terms of the ZIP codes or the areas of the city? Or have they stayed the same during the pandemic?

Noakes:  It stayed fairly close to what they were prior to the pandemic. We’ll have outliers every once in a while but we’ve always had outliers every once in a while. It pretty much stays in the same neighborhoods and that’s something we’re very aware of for more than one reason.

One reason is because since we know where those crimes historically happen, we’re able to deploy our resources a little bit more efficiently, but at the same time we understand there’s a fine line between providing quality service to a neighborhood and over policing or appearing as we’re coming in as an occupying force.

Something I said over and over, we want to work in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation with the communities. Because those violent crimes often happen in the same areas, we don’t want it to seem like we’re coming in only to their neighborhoods and giving them a disproportionate amount of enforcement.

We also want to make sure we’re there with that community engagement, relationship building piece, and educate the citizens and the businesses there about why we’re there and the fact that we’re there to help. We’re not after the law abiding citizens, the great people that live there who want the same things out of life that everyone wants. We’re there to try to weed out the ones who are actually causing issues that those good citizens don’t want to see in their neighborhoods anyway.

United States

Violent Crime Survey by Major Cities Chiefs Association

2020 – 8,077
2019 – 6,087

2020 – 26,154
2019 – 31,122

2020 – 101,613
2019 – 113,812

Aggravated Assault
2020 – 257,885
2019 – 224,951

Source: Major Cities Chiefs Association

Crime in Fort Worth: Releasing videos, department diversity