As part of the effort to address the latest controversies within the Fort Worth Police Department, at Tuesday’s work session, the Fort Worth City Council received an informal report updating them on the status of filling the newly created police monitor position.
The city of Fort Worth Race and Culture Task Force recommended to the council that the city establish a framework to set up and appoint a Civilian Review Board (CRB), or an alternative model of civilian oversight, that will have an active role in police accountability and oversight. As a response, City Manager David Cooke recommended the establishment of an office of community oversight led by a police monitor, who would undertake the process to establish a CRB.
The monitor will lead the long-term operational planning, among other duties. Upon creation of a CRB, the monitor will assist the board in carrying out policy directives and mission, as well as advance and direct the city’s commitment to gaining the community’s trust to address gaps between law enforcement and the community resulting from recent incidents.
The FWPD and city officials have been the subject of controversy of late, stemming from several incidents, the most recent being the shooting death of 28-year-old citizen Atatiana Jefferson. She was killed in her home early in the morning on Oct. 12 by officer Aaron Dean, who was responding to a call from a neighbor to a non-emergency number.
Dean immediately resigned and has been charged with murder. Both cases have drawn national attention, and the Jefferson case has spawned protests throughout Fort Worth.
“We were getting several questions about the various initiatives underway related to the Race and Culture Task Force recommendations. With the call for review panel, people were getting confused and not understanding how the various pieces will work together,” Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa said. “Additionally, there were questions related to how we were going about making a decision on whom the police monitor would ultimately be, so we wanted to be completely transparent on the process.”
The first step in the process of revamping police oversight was to include the police monitor position, along with an initial staff assistant, in the city’s current fiscal year budget. Recruitment for the police monitor position began in late summer.
The police monitor will be responsible for leading the activities and operations of the police oversight office, provide civilian oversight over the FWPD, and offer feedback and guidance to the city manager’s office, including handling citizen complaints. The monitor will also serve as an impartial, unbiased representative, furnishing information to and interacting with government officials and community representatives.
The police monitor position will be a third-party principal adviser who is outside the department but understands how it functions and can look at it from an independent standpoint. They will advise the city manager on strategic policy matters, will track the internal investigations and community complaints, and produce reports to the city manager and police chief.
The list of potential candidates has been narrowed, and they will be hosted by the city on Nov. 20-21. The city will empanel three interview groups, with the ultimate decision for filling the position being made by the city manager.
*The first panel will consist of the city manager and the assistant city managers.
*The second will be a citizen’s panel made up of representatives of the community, including members of the Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight, members of the Race and Culture Task Force, a clergy member from Southeast Fort Worth and neighborhood association representatives.
*The third will be made up of City of Fort Worth coworkers who will be directly working with the monitor. This group will include the police chief and assistant chiefs, a Police Officer’s Association member and the city attorney, plus two additional assistant city attorneys chosen by the city attorney.
Additionally, an evening public forum and reception will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the Fort Worth Central Library so citizens can meet the candidates personally.
“At the end of the day, it’s my decision, and I think I’ll make a better decision getting all types of input from different parties. I want as much input as possible,” Cooke said.
A review of other cities that recently hired police monitor type positions indicates that both the exclusion of public input into the process and the inclusion of representatives of police associations or the police department is not uncommon. For example, in Chicago, the panels for hiring of the monitor included police association members. Conversely, in Austin the last couple appointments of the director over the oversight office has not included a public process of any type.