Part 1 of a 6 part series.
Violent crime – including the closely watched statistics on homicide – is up sharply in Fort Worth this year, tracking a pattern seen in almost every major city in the United States.
The reasons, says Fort Worth’s newly appointed police chief Neil Noakes, are many and varied.
In an April 22 interview with the Fort Worth Business Press, Noakes said general violent crime statistics are tracking close to the previous year, the startling statistic, however, is the rate of homicides.
“We’re at 30 right now in Fort Worth for the year, numbers are too high. 2019 we had 71 homicides for the entire year. We had 115 last year. It had been a quarter century since we saw triple digits like that. Those are numbers that are absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
Pretty much every major city in the country is seeing a spike like this, he said.
Meet the Chief
Chief Neil Noakes has been with the Fort Worth Police Department since 2000. He has served in multiple ranks across the department in areas such as Patrol, DWI, Motors, and Internal Affairs.
Prior to being named Chief of Police, he oversaw the South Command as Deputy Chief.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration form Tarleton State University and his master’s degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology from Texas Christian University.
He is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute’s 137th Administrative Officers Course and TCU’s inaugural Leadership, Executive and Administrative Development program (L.E.A.D. #1).
He also enjoys working with youth engagement programs such as Operation Progress, Read2Win, All Pro Dad and the City of Fort Worth’s Education Initiative.
– City of Fort Worth Police Department
“It’s going to be something criminologists study for years to come to determine exactly what caused this, but there are theories about it,” Noakes said.
Those theories include the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation and economic stress it caused.
“We’re social creatures. We’re not meant to be isolated socially from one another and I think some, especially maybe younger population, didn’t deal with that well and it’s understandably so.
“It impacted a lot of people in a negative way. Some people, they lost hope. Once you lose hope there’s not much else out there for a person.” Noakes said.
And there is the impact of social media.
“Social media’s been a game changer for society. It’s been a game changer for law enforcement. Unfortunately it’s been a game changer with violent crime as well,” he said.
Noakes said a number of the violent crimes Fort Worth police have seen, including some aggravated assaults, homicides and non-fatal shootings, started online.
“Someone disrespects someone online, it grows, it continues, other people get involved and the next thing you know, someone’s actually committing homicide because of an argument that started online. An online disagreement unfortunately turns into blood spilled in our neighborhood sometimes,” he said.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d have to track homicides related to social media. But it’s the way things are now unfortunately. We’re having to pivot frequently to make sure we stay up with the needs of society in relation to the way we track and respond to violent crime,” he said.
The Fort Worth Police Department is trying to catch up with the changes with technology, how it’s effecting society, effecting crime and effecting policing.
“I think we’re making some great strides, but technology changes so rapidly and society seems to be changing around that. It’s something we’re always working to stay up with constantly,” he said.
In an address to the Rotary Club of Fort Worth , Noakes said the city’s violent crime went up 26.2% from 2019 to 2020 while the homicide rate increased 62%, the first time since 1995 the number was in triple digits.
Police are taking firearms off the street he said, and firearm usage in violent crimes is starting to go down, but not as fast as he would like to see.
“We will not arrest our way out of crime, but arresting people is part of our job. There are violent predators out there in our neighborhoods that don’t need to be there. But we have to acknowledge the fact that if we continue doing things way we’ve been doing them and we expect a different result, that’s insanity,” Noakes told the Rotarians.
In the Business Press interview, Noakes said the department is adding new technology to try to keep up with things criminals are doing because they figure out how to take technology and use it for nefarious means.
“There’s all kinds of stress-related issues also when it comes to a lot of the social unrest that we saw after the tragic death of George Floyd. People regardless of profession, including police officers, saw that video and were outraged,” Noakes said.
“I’m not saying the protests caused violent crime. I’m not, but there was a sense of uneasiness across the country in general and we don’t know if that maybe contributed to anything or not,” he said.
Some of the steps the Fort Worth Police Department is taking to respond to the new normal:
– Recognizing the impact that mental health issues have on violent crime with Crisis Intervention Team officers who ride with a mental health professional.
– The Homeless Outreach Program, Hope, which provides resources to assist those who are homeless.
– The Civilian Response Unit, which responds to situations that do not necessarily require a police officer to free them for the more important calls that are violent or dangerous.
– The Gun Violence Investigations Team, patterned after other departments across the country that established a team of detectives specifically trained and equipped to investigate non-fatal shootings the way the Homicide Unit investigates fatal shootings.
– A Real-Time Crime Center that takes advantage of technological advances that makes the police department more efficient and serves as a force multiplier.
– The Community Safety Partnership, a new unit to intentionally build relationships in specific communities where the relationship between the police and the public is not what it should be.
Noakes said the Fort Worth Police Department understands that people have a Constitutional right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate, but business owners and homeowners also have a right to be safe and also for their property to be safe.
“Sure, we’re learning, we’re doing things better, we hope to do better as we go forward, but I’ll put the way we handle it against any other major city in the nation, and I don’t think you’ll find any that handled it the way we did,” he said in the Rotary Club speech.
Violent Crime Survey by Major Cities Chiefs Association
2020 – 115
2019 – 71
2020 – 517
2019 – 560
2020 – 891
2019 – 952
2020 – 2,847
2019 – 1,950
Source: Major Cities Chiefs Association