How has oversight changed the Fort Worth Police Department?
Fort Worth launched its first-ever police oversight office last year. Since then, police monitor Kim Neal says she’s made real progress, but there’s still a lot of work ahead.
As Fort Worth’s first police monitor, Kim Neal aims to improve the relationship between the community and the police — and works to prevent police violence before it happens.
Her office is separate from the police department. She makes recommendations to improve police department policies and tracks the progress of complaints against officers.
Neal started her job in March 2020, as the world shut down due to the pandemic. She assumed this role just a few months before a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd.
On Thursday, Community Frontline, a racial justice-focused nonprofit in East Fort Worth, held a panel with Kim Neal to talk about her work so far.
What progress has the police monitor made since March 2020?
Neal said the police department has accepted all of her office’s recommendations, even though that’s not a requirement.
“Thus far, we have collaborated very well,” she said.
Before Neal started, the police department already required officers to step in if they saw one of their colleagues behaving badly. That’s a principle called the duty to intervene.
However, the department did not require officers to report an intervention after the fact, Neal said. That changed after her office’s recommendation.
The police department also agreed to add the contact information for Neal’s office to the results of complaint investigations. That way, if someone isn’t happy with the way their complaint against an officer was handled, they know who to reach out to for help.
Neal said a big part of her job so far has been communication: making sure people know her office exists, and building trust in the community.
Her office has also grown since it was established last year, from two employees to five.
What’s the status of community oversight at the police department?
Advocates have been pushing for years for an oversight board made up of community members, and that has yet to materialize.
Neal is working to establish that board. From December 2020 to July 2021, her office assembled a community group to hash out exactly what the proposed Community Police Oversight & Accountability Board would do.
The group decided on a diverse 15-member board with expertise in civil rights, mental health, immigration, homelessness and LGBTQ+ issues. Its duties would include making policy recommendations alongside Neal’s office and identifying problems for further review.
What still needs to be done?
Neal hopes to bring a presentation about the community oversight board to the Fort Worth City Council in early December, asking for their support. The city attorney’s office would then draft an ordinance to create the board, Neal said, and after another period of review, it would go back to the Council. With no delays, the board could be up and running by spring of 2022.
Neal also plans to follow up on her recommendations. While all of them have been accepted, not all have been put into practice, she said.
A new employee joined Neal’s office last week, whose job will be to track accepted recommendations and their progress, and then make that information available to the public and city council members online.
“We’re changing an entire culture of policing for the city of Fort Worth, which is what other cities are doing, and it’s a tough thing to do,” she said.
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