Council Report: Fort Worth Police to participate in Building Community Trust initiative

At Tuesday’s work session, the Fort Worth City Council was given a presentation on the Fort Worth Police Department’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice by officer Charlie Ramirez.

In September of 2014, then Attorney General Eric Holder announced the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, to be run by a consortium of research institutions.

The mission is twofold:

*Improve relationships and increase trust between communities and criminal justice agencies.

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*Advance the public and scholarly understandings of issues related to those relationships and effective strategies for building trust.

“It allowed us to look at what we were doing right, but more importantly what we were doing wrong,” Ramirez said of the Initiative.

Fort Worth has been a center of controversy, most recently with the shooting of Atatiana Jefferson, an African-American woman, by white officer officer Aaron Dean in her home in early October while he was responding to a neighbor’s call for a safety check.

At the Dec. 10 council meeting, Ed Kraus was named the new Fort Worth Police Chief. He took over after Joel Fitzgerald was fired following a series of controversies that included a heated onstage debate with the head of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas during an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. and allegations Fitzgerald made exaggerated claims on his resume’ when applying to become Baltimore’s police commissioner.

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The National Initiative combines existing and newly developed interventions informed by procedural justice, implicit bias, and reconciliation in six pilot sites around the country. Fort Worth is one of these sites, along with Stockton, California; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Gary, Indiana; and Birmingham, Alabama.

The three pillars of the National Initiative are:

*Procedural justice – Focuses on the way police interact with people, and how

these interactions shape people’s views of the police, their willingness to obey the law, and

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cooperate and engage with legal authorities.

* Implicit bias – Describes the automatic associations all humans make about groups and group members, and how these associations impact behavior in certain situations.

*Reconciliation – Repairing relationships between police and minority communities by addressing history, grievances, and misconceptions, and finding common ground.

From the FWPD, 1,700-plus officers received 16 hours of Procedural Justice training and six hours of Implicit Bias Training. School resource officers and neighborhood police officers received additional training on creating and facilitating successful conversations.

“I’m very happy to see the funding is moving forward for procedural justice, implicit bias, and reconciliation,” Ramirez said. “It allows us to continue what we’re doing.”

Several community engagements included discussion panels, including Southwest Fort Worth community concerns, parents and school district officials, community and faith leaders getting together, and a FWPD Community PJ Kick-off Event in which community members and stakeholders were invited to hear about FWPD’s role in the National Initiative, PJ Training, working towards creating community partnerships and future goals.

Other engagements included:

*Community Procedural Justice Awareness Forum Community Groups – residents and department officials met to discus latest projects and programs and held conversations on issues of trust and working to improve it.

*Race and Culture Task Force Criminal Justice Committee – discussed the

department’s involvement in the National Initiative and provided overview of

training material.

*Use of Force Citizen Awareness Class – this is now part of departmental policy

and providing every quarter. Citizens get to come to the training academy to

receive training on departmental policy and statistics and policy related to Use

of Force as well as participate in scenario training.

Achievements and goals include:

*Continue providing procedural justice training for all graduating Recruits.

*Continue procedural justice training utilizing department-wide refresher courses and roll-call resources.

*Policy and procedure adjustments guided by the procedural justice principles.

Revised general order on bias-free policing.

*Began reporting use of force, arrests, stops, and discipline policies and statistics online.

*Issued new order on racial profiling that reaffirmed the department’s commitment to unbiased policing.

*Revised use of force/force options and use of force reporting general orders.

*Created new policy and guidelines for police and community relationships.

*Increased dialogue between police and neighborhood residents.

*Formation of new citizen/police groups such as Beyond the Badge.

*Improved channels for problem-solving skills within the community.

*Increased transparency on departmental website, providing greater access to

departmental personal, policy and data.

Throughout all six cities, perceptions of procedural fairness were higher during the second wave of citizen responses (2017) than the first (2015), as are perceptions of police legitimacy. Feelings of trust and connection to officers was also higher the second time. So were perceptions of police bias.

Locally, some notable figures in Fort Worth included a slight drop in perceptions of police legitimacy, and an increase in perception of police bias. Also, there was a slight increase in community-focused policing, relatability to police, the law, and a willingness to partner with police. The view on procedural justice remained the same.

It was noted that the observed improvement in community perceptions on measures the National Initiative sought to affect, such as trust in police and police

legitimacy, is a very promising finding. However, while community perceptions improved in

the aggregate, views of police and police legitimacy remain largely negative in the neighborhoods most affected by crime and disadvantage. In short, even where perceptions improved, there is still ample room for improvement.

Moving forward, the FWPD plans ongoing procedural justice training, along with a 2020 listening session and police forums to be scheduled throughout the year as part of the reconciliation process.

“This is extremely important work. There’s a lot to be learned, but there’s also a real brave effort to opening your heart to see where you stand. I admit I was skeptical when this started,” District 6 Councilman Jungas Jordan said.

District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens also offered praise, with a suggestion.

“When the public finds out it was brought to us by a man named Eric Holder, I believe we’re going to get some pushback because of the climate we’re in,” she said. “But I’m encouraged because the police department, under Chief Kraus, can overcome that.

“I don’t want people to think this is the end-all. I expect some adjustments to it, but I salute you.”