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Fort Worth’s first African-American police chief plans to focus on community

🕐 4 min read

Fort Worth is the third city where Joel Fitzgerald has been named the first African-American police chief. He was the first in Missouri City, Texas and Allentown, Pa., as well.

But he said he hopes to not be the last.

“The bottom line is, we’ve come so far as a community and so far as a city that it’s a shame that should have to be a consideration,” he said at a press conference held Sept. 28.

In the midst of recent tension between officers and the public, exemplified by cases such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Fitzgerald said he wants the Fort Worth community to see police officers as “a little more than just being the occupying force.”

“I’d love to see this type of coverage at schools when police officers are having events or running leagues,” he said. “There’s so many different good things that police officers do on a daily basis that don’t get the type of coverage that it needs to get.”

City Manager David Cooke announced Sept. 23 that Fitzgerald was named Fort Worth’s new police chief after a nine-month search that included an interview process and public forums. The city narrowed the search to six candidates before Fitzgerald was chosen for the job. He will take the place of former chief Jeff Halstead, who announced his retirement in November.

Fitzgerald’s first day of work is expected to be Oct. 19.

One of the reasons Fitzgerald was chosen for the position was his emphasis on community policing, Mayor Betsy Price said.

“He knows we have great community support,” she said. “But like any large city, he also knows there are issues to be faced and progressive changes to be made.”

One part of Fitzgerald’s job will be managing the department’s budget, which includes plans to create a sixth police division in the Alliance area, near Keller, Price said.

For the 2015 fiscal year, the Fort Worth Police Department expects to spend about $204.6 million in general funding and about $66.5 million from the Crime Control Prevention District (CCPD), a separate fund set aside for a citywide crime prevention initiative. In the 2014 fiscal year, the department planned to spend around $204.8 million in general funding and around $67.6 million from the CCPD.

The budget of the police department in Allentown, Pa., where Fitzgerald was chief before coming to Fort Worth, was about $33 million.

As new police chief, Fitzgerald will receive a higher pay than the former chief. Halstead was making $173,524.11 per year, while Fitzgerald will make $205,000 per year — a difference of more than $31,000.

As more responsibilities are set to fall on Fitzgerald’s plate, he plans to still take time to exercise his leadership style of “participative management,” which involves building relationships with the members of his department, he said.

“In a 2,000-person police department, that’s going to be pretty hard,” he said. “However, I will do my very best to meet everyone in this organization, to get to know people at a personal level.”

He’ll also need to adjust to life in Texas after coming from Pennsylvania. However, he’ll still root for the Philadelphia Eagles over the Dallas Cowboys, he said.

Still, Price said she senses Fitzgerald’s excitement about coming to Texas.

“Chief, welcome to Cowtown,” Price said. “You’ve got to get a pair of boots very soon.”

The Fort Worth City Council will hold a meeting Sept. 29 to discuss a resolution that will formally appoint Fitzgerald as police chief.

Joel Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald earned the 2010 NAACP President’s Award for Community Policing and numerous honors for exceptional service during his career, including 17 commendations, a Police Officer of the Year Award and honors from U.S. Rep. Al Green and the Texas State House of Representatives.

Fitzgerald holds a Ph.D. in business administration, a master’s of business administration in executive management and a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. He serves on the International Association of Chiefs of Police Forensics Committee and the Northcentral University School of Business and Technology Program Advisory Committee.

He is a graduate of the Harvard University Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program, the FBI National Academy-Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar Program, DEA-Drug Unit Commanders Academy, Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command and the Police Executive Research Forum.

Fitzgerald and his wife Pauline have three children and one grandchild. He is expected to begin work in Fort Worth on Oct. 19.

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