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State of Black Arlington event addresses community policing, guns in schools, health disparities

Arlington Police Chief Al Jones holds a microphone and gestures towards audience members. He's wearing his police uniform and sitting behind a desk.
Kailey Broussard
/
KERA
Arlington Police Chief Al Jones, center, speaks to residents at the State of Black Arlington event June 27, 2024 at the South District Service Center.

Health and safety were the focus of Thursday's second annual State of Black Arlington.

The event, hosted by the mayor’s Black Advisory Council, discussed relationships between law enforcement and Black residents, as well as the link between physical and mental health. It incorporated work done by the city’s Unity Council — including reports in 2021 and 2023 — that looked at relationship-building between law enforcement and residents and eliminating barriers to health care that minority communities face.

“We saw that health, public safety and a number of other topics were on the top of the agenda of things that were disparity points for all sorts of communities,” Xavier Egan, advisory council co-chair, said. “We decided to take up that same challenge and make sure that we were giving the community access to those resources in those very spaces.”

Police Chief Al Jones, who took the helm of the agency in 2021, said the department has focused on relationship-building, transparency and officer training.

That transparency, he said, applies both internally and externally. Jones said he has prioritized releasing footage from body-worn cameras after officer-involved shootings. There have been four reported this year.

“Whether we have a good or bad shooting, and I don’t care what it looks like, we’re going to release the body-worn camera because I think the community has an opportunity or should be able to see exactly what I see,” Jones said.

Jones also discussed Operation Connect, a department initiative launched in 2021. Police identified and dedicated resources to seven areas of town with the most crime and most fatalities, then knocked on doors in the area and handed out brochures.

“What we have normally done is go in and throw a whole bunch of resources in that area, make traffic stop after traffic stop after traffic stop, and then all we’re doing is pissing off our community,” Jones said. “And we’re not building those positive relationships.”

Asked about how police are handling school shootings, Jones said the department reviews policies, requires officer training and works with schools. But the community and parents need to help police by locking away firearms.

“We need our community, and you know, they want guns, and I have not an issue with that,” Jones said. “What I’m asking our community to do is lock your guns up, make sure that these kids don’t have access to these guns.”

Research presented to the Unity Council in 2020 found that Black residents in North Texas have the lowest life expectancy of any racial or ethnic group, at 75.3 years. Tarrant County data included in the presentation showed Black residents were most likely to experience poor to fair health.

Public health experts also discussed the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic and the link mental health has to heart attacks and diabetes.

Tara Robinson co-founded the Black Heart Association after suffering three heart attacks, three days in a row.

“It was all mental," she said. "I had no cholesterol, no diabetes, none of that."

Robinson said people need to make time for self-care during the day.

“If I poll the room and say, well, how much time did you make for yourself today? Out of 24 hours, we can’t even take 30 minutes to just stop and take a breath,” she said.

The Black Heart Association also offered health screenings during the panel.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Kailey Broussard covers Arlington for KERA News and The Arlington Report. Broussard has covered Arlington since 2020 and began at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the station in 2021.