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Fort Worth
Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Fort Worth police panel releases preliminary findings, to report to council

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An independent panel of national experts that spent months reviewing Fort Worth Police Department policies has provided its preliminary observations and recommendations on changes the department should implement to improve and retain public trust and confidence.

The purpose for this panel is to review police interactions with the public during investigative stops, searches, arrests, de-escalation and use-of-force incidents. The panel looked at police policies, operational interactions with the public, training, documentation, accountability systems, corrective and reporting procedures, and technology applications. The review has included meetings and listening sessions with community members, community groups and police personnel.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the review is taking longer than originally planned. The panel will continue its work through the fall.

The independent panel review was initiated and appointed by City Manager David Cooke following the death of Atatiana Jefferson.

“Every organization can benefit from having an independent group of experts review policies and procedures to see where we can improve the work we do with, and for, our community,” Cooke said.

The panel was led by Alex del Carmen and Theron L. Bowman, both experts with strong local and national ties who also have extensive police reform experience.

From the Executive Summary:

Reviewing encounters that raise concerns that officers are not consistently adhering to policies to avoid force during encounters with community members and these policies are not enforced by the Department, the Expert Review Panel Recommends:

• Review and revise de-escalation policies to clarify that officers are required to use de-escalation and force avoidance tactics when appropriate and that it is a serious policy violation when they fail to do so;

• Review and revise all force training to include de-escalation and force avoidance practices;

• Strengthen the internal affairs and other accountability systems to ensure that the failure to de-escalate or avoid force when appropriate is identified and addressed;

• Increase the review of use of force incidents and improved force reporting; and

• Review and revise Taser policies and training.

In a second area of concern, the panel says the Department needs to build trust with all communities and develop stronger partnerships to co-create public safety. The Expert Review Panel Recommends:

• Rapidly conclude the process of defining the roles and responsibilities of the Office of Police Monitor;

• Create mechanisms to ensure that the Police Monitor is independent and free from undue influence;

• Address the authority of the Police Monitor to issue public reports;

• Ensure that the Office of Police Monitor has adequate resources;

• Develop and implement a plan for meaningful community engagement with all communities throughout Fort Worth; and

• Review and revise the Neighborhood Police Officer program.

 The third area of concern is that the Department lacks functioning crisis intervention services.

The Expert Review Panel recommends:

• Develop a crisis intervention program that engages non-law enforcement mental health personnel to respond to calls regarding persons in crisis;

• Significantly expand resources for crisis intervention;

• Engage of mental health services consumers and providers in the development of the program;

• Expand training of all officers on the use of crisis intervention capacity and to safely and effectively interact with people in crisis.

Fourth, the panel looked at increased integration of accountability structures would facilitate consistency in accountability and promote compliance with policy.

The Expert Review Panel recommends:

• Review and revise Internal Affairs practices to strengthen coordination between the Office of Internal Affairs and the chain of command;

• Require the Special Investigation Unit to share officer interviews with Internal Affairs;

• Increase training for Internal Affairs Detectives;

• Reduce overreliance on the Use of Force Coordinator – a single officer – to assess the appropriateness and lawfulness of use of force;

• Investigate all civilian complaints and cease the use of classifying some complaints as “contacts;” and

• Review and revise policies regarding the use of officer compelled statements;

The panel notes that Fort Worth has made important investments in policy development, training, technology, and facilities.

 The Expert Review Panel recommends:

• Expedite the implementation of an early warning system that will facilitate the identification of officers who may be at risk for misconduct;

• Review and revise recruitment practices to ensure greater diversity in the Department and to ensure that it better reflects the racial, gender, LGBT status, disability, and other diversity of the community;

• Expand the number of officers that speak languages other than English and that can communicate through the use of sign language; and

• Address deficiencies in the background check process for new officers.

The sixth and final focus area says that the Department should more effectively use the data it collects and strengthen its systems to learn as an organization.

The Expert Review Panel Recommends:

 • Assessment of its data collection and analysis capacity to ensure that the information collected is used to identify necessary revisions to policies, training, tactics or other operations of the Department.

• Establish a permanent mechanism or protocol with the aim of analyzing data in real time related to use of force, policies and tactics. Ensure that this information, once analyzed, is part of the ongoing discussion of the command staff and police leadership.

View an executive summaryPDF File and the panel’s complete preliminary report.PDF File

del Carmen and Bowman will present the panel’s preliminary observations and recommendations at 3 p.m. Aug. 4 during the City Council work session. The panel will continue to engage in additional document review, interviews, data analysis and community meetings in the coming months.

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