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Fort Worth Names First Police Monitor

Kim Neal, center, has been named Fort Worth's first police monitor.
Christopher Connelly
Kim Neal, center, has been named Fort Worth's first police monitor.

Fort Worth has named its first police monitor. Kim Neal, who is currently executive director for the Citizens Complaint Authority in Cincinnati, will take the job. 

The first priority for Neal will be to help determine the shape and scope of a civilian police oversight program. Fort Worth remains the largest city in Texas without an independent police oversight board or office.

Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke said he looks forward to working with Neal to develop the independent review of the city's police department, saying it will help increase trust between the community and police.

“We will be relying on Kim’s vast knowledge and experience as we move forward to implement best practices for independent review of police,” Cooke said in a statement.

Pamela Young, the lead organizer for the Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight, said in a statement that the group looks forward to working with Neal, “to ensure transparency, accountability, and fair and equitable policing in every community from the Fort Worth Police Department, through effective, independent, community-driven oversight.”

The city council approved funding for the new position in in October. In 2018, the city’s Task Force on Race and Culture listed civilian oversight of the police department as a top recommendation. As police monitor, Neal will be expected to research and recommend the structure and authorities of an oversight board made up of appointed community members.

In Cincinnati, Neal is tasked with overseeing the investigations of serious misconduct allegations by Cincinnati police officers including deaths in custody, uses of force and improper procedures.

“We are confident Kim will have a positive impact on our community by improving community-police interactions and identifying an independent review model for Fort Worth,” Mayor Betsy Price said.

'Independence Has To Be Maintained'

In November, at a forum for the five job finalists for the police monitor position, Neal stressed the importance of community engagement, and said that she’d work to be seen as a neutral, fair and diligent arbiter when looking at allegations of police misconduct. Neal also stressed the importance of independence from the influence of political leaders, police officials and city management.

“There has to be somewhere where it’s outlined in the policies, procedures, regulations or laws of the city that the independence has to be maintained, and in no way shape or form can the police chief or the city manager or the assistant city manager weigh in on a matter,” Neal said.

How independent the position can be has already been a point of contention between community advocates pushing for a strong police oversight board.

Members of the Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight have criticized the city for putting the police monitor under the supervision of Jay Chapa, the assistant city manager who oversees the police department. The advocates have also argued that the police monitor’s office – which includes a budget for the monitor and an assistant – is so underfunded that it will be hobbled coming out of the gate.

The coalition has been critical of the process of setting up police oversight in Fort Worth. They say the process should be informed by the experiences of people historically marginalized and over-policed. The group expressed support for a different police monitor job candidate – researcher Denise Rodriguez – late last year.

City Manager Cooke has said he is open to making changes to ensure the police monitor can be independent and effective, and maintain community trust.

A Growing Trend

While the eventual structure of Fort Worth’s police oversight program has yet to be determined, the city has nearly endless formulations to look to across the country, criminal justice scholar Phillip Goff told the Texas Standard. Goff, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said there’s been a push nationwide to explore how police oversight bodies work and don’t work recently.

Last spring, Dallas rechristened its long-standing civilian review board into the Community Police Oversight Board, adding new authorities. Austin named a new police monitor, staffed up her office and suspended its civilian review panel in 2018.

“If the people feel as they are being occupied – as opposed to feeling as if they are being represented – then people are less likely to be compliant with law enforcement and even less likely to be in compliance with the law,” Goff said. “The reason why you’re seeing so many pushes for civilian oversight is so that the folks who live in the community feel like they have a voice in the way that they’re kept safe.”

In a recent interview, Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus said that he was curious to see how the new civilian police oversight program works. He said there is some trepidation among the city’s rank-and-file police officers, since they will be the ones overseen by the new police monitor and whatever board that may be organized to review their policing.

“It's just the unknown right now that's causing that angst,” Kraus said. “I think, once we get a model in place, and they see how it's playing out – that they're going to be supported, but they're also going to be expected to do things the right way — I think they'll relax, because most of the officers are already doing that.”