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What Fort Worth’s police oversight office has achieved — and why some changes have stalled

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Fort Worth's Office of the Police Oversight Monitor recently released its first biannual report.

Fort Worth’s police oversight office marked the end of its second year with a report detailing its successes and the progress left to make. While the police department has completed many of the office’s recommendations, others remain “in progress” after months or years of work.

Fort Worth established the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor in 2020 to serve as watchdog over the police department. Police Monitor Kim Neal and her staff review police department policies and keep an eye on internal investigations of police conduct.

Neal does not have the power to tell the police department what to do, but she can make recommendations for changes. KERA previously reported on the status of those recommendations after obtaining them through a public records request.

The oversight office’s first biannual report shows that, as of December 2021, the police department had accepted all the police monitor’s recommendations, but some remain incomplete.

That’s due to police chief turnover, Neal said in an interview with KERA. When she made some of her original recommendations, Ed Kraus was still police chief. When Kraus retired and Neil Noakes took over, Neal said she had to establish a work relationship with the new chief.

"What the chief and I need to sit down and talk about is how we should move forward with some of the recommendations that are still in progress,” Neal said.

That includes a recommendation for the police department to create a foot pursuit policy, which her office first suggested in September 2020.

Establishing a foot pursuit policy would establish guidelines to keep officers and the public safe, Neal said. She gave the example of an officer who must decide whether to pursue someone into oncoming traffic. A foot pursuit policy would help the officer weigh the importance of stopping the person versus the danger of continuing the pursuit, she said.

"Is there an exigent circumstance that we have to pursue that person at that particular time?” Neal said. “Or can we stop their pursuit for the safety of that person, as well as the officer, and hopefully address that individual later on?”

When asked about her office’s most significant achievements, Neal focused on the changes that made her department “more apparent and accountable to the community,” like the changes to the police department’s messy complaint tracking system. When her office first launched in 2020, some community members asked her to look into what happened to old complaints against officers, and finding those complaints wasn’t easy, Neal said.

“What we discovered was that it was really hard to track the progress of an investigation,” Neal said. “We heard from many community members that said they had filed complaints and they just weren't clear on what the status was."

After the police monitor’s recommendations, the police department now communicates more with people who lodge complaints about the status of the department's internal investigations, Neal said.

"At the end of their investigation, they send a letter out to that community member, letting them know that they have concluded their investigation,” Neal said. “And in that letter, by the way, they have a statement in there about if there are concerns about the investigation, they can contact them, or they can contact our office to address their concerns."

The police department also now assigns a number to all internal investigations, so they’re easier to track. Before that, it was hard to pin down which division oversaw what investigation, Neal said.

The police department also completed a recommendation that mandates warnings before an officer uses a stun gun, the biannual report shows. In records previously shared with KERA, that recommendation had no agreement or progress listed.

Recommendations made this spring about the police department’s new technology contract have been accepted, but not finalized, Neal said in an email.

The future of the office

The Office of the Police Oversight Monitor has grown to six full-time staff members, the report shows. The office’s total approved budget grew from $686,400 in fiscal year 2020 to $802,812 in 2021.

Neal would like to see her staff grow even more. Right now, her office primarily keeps an eye on the complaints against police officers that are filed with her office.

"We aren't sometimes able to address all the complaints that are filed with PD,” she said.

Then there’s the matter of a possible community oversight board. That’s a board made up of city residents who would add another layer of police oversight.

The board is an idea that first came up in the city’s 2018 Race and Culture Task Force report. In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, community organizations demanded that the board be established right away. That didn’t happen.

In September 2021, Neal went before the city council and made her recommendation for what that board should look like.

Now, the ball is in the council’s court to approve the recommendation, change it, or deny it altogether, Neal said.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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