Community, Transparency Are Top Priorities For Fort Worth Police Chief | KERA News

Community, Transparency Are Top Priorities For Fort Worth Police Chief

Jan 14, 2020

Since 1992, Ed Kraus has been a Fort Worth cop. In May, he was named interim police chief. Last month, he was given the job permanently. 

KERA's Christopher Connelly sat down with Chief Kraus to talk about the direction of the department, his priorities, and the opportunities and challenges facing the police force he’s been a part of for nearly three decades.

You can listen to the complete interview below:

KERA: Perhaps the most difficult challenge you faced this year followed the shooting of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman, by a Fort Worth police officer. What did that moment teach you, and did it clarify new priorities for Fort Worth PD moving forward?

KRAUS: I think when I end my career in law enforcement, it will be one of the biggest, most profound incidents that made up my career.

What I found through that — and it's something we'd started earlier in the summer with some of the other officer-involved incidents we'd had — was a need to be more responsive to the to the community, to recognize their need to know, and balance that with the need to preserve details for an investigation. And to find a way to be quicker to release details and video or pictures, when available, in order to help build that relationship with the community — help create transparency with the department — so people feel better about their department even when something negative happens.

If people trust in the process, it gives the police department legitimacy in the community and that makes it easier for us to do our jobs.

[Note: The judge overseeing the trial of former Fort Worth Officer Aaron Dean issued a gag order on the case, so Kraus declined to discuss details of the case itself.]

KERA: What are your top two priorities that you think have to be at the top of the list when it comes to this department moving forward policing this growing city?

KRAUS: Okay, so No. 1 is a return to community policing. That's the model I grew up under. There was a movement away from that, not just in the Fort Worth Police Department but across the profession nationally, and that followed the events of 9/11. That that caused a lot of departments to quit putting resources toward community policing and put them in other places to deal with the perceived threat of terrorism.

KERA: When you say community policing you're talking about officers who are on foot patrol and in the same area policing the same area regularly?

KRAUS: Yes, so the citizens get to know their officers. Right now, we have neighborhood police officers. Every beat has a neighborhood police officer assigned to them, it's something Thomas Windham started back in the early '90s.

We finally got to the point where every beat had a police officer. However, we went away from a beat concept, where you'd work the same beat every day. We did away with that and went to a zone concept. Instead of working one particular beat, you're one of eight officers working eight beats, and so you could be moved from one side of the division to the other. You don't have time to sit down and know the people that you're serving at that point.

This returned to a beat concept is something we started earlier back in 2019, part of the return to community policing.

KERA: So that's one priority. Is there a second priority that's up at the top there?

KRAUS: I think community policing has to be the main focus, to bring that trust and that relationship back to the department. Once we get there, other things will fall into place.

I would say the second priority would be this continuation toward transparency in the department. And that will feed into community policing if we can increase that legitimacy with the police department with the community that we serve.

And I'll tell you, most of the Fort Worth community is very supportive of the police department. There are some groups where there's distrust, and that's where we need to concentrate our efforts to build that trust with them.

KERA: Fort Worth’s city leaders have hired a panel of national experts to evaluate training, policies and procedures in the police department, and the city will set up new police oversight authorities. Are you concerned that increased oversight will add challenges in running the department?

KRAUS: I think those are actually great opportunities for us. The panel is reviewing our policies and procedures and training, we always need to be looking for how we can improve, how we can do better. You can't see everything from inside an organization. You need people from outside the organization to help you move that organization forward.

As far as the police oversight: Again, I think that can only help make us better. I'm not opposed to that. I'm not worried about that or afraid of that. I'm curious how we're going to get that setup and what the exact format will look like but I'm more than happy to work with the individual that gets that the [police] auditor-monitor position to help build a model that works for Fort Worth.

KERA: Do you worry about morale for rank-and-file officers, seeing some form of civilian oversight coming into effect, that officers are going to feel like they need to be more cautious out in the field?

KRAUS: One thing we don't want to do is put that hesitation in an officer’s mindset to the point that it's going to cause them a delay that gets them hurt or get somebody else hurt. We do very well with training our officers in use-of-force situations. We need to do a better job of training them how to keep their job, and doing so by using force in a responsible manner when necessary and to the least amount necessary.

I do think that there is trepidation among a lot of officers about what oversight will look like, how it’ll effect their careers. But it's just the unknown right now that's causing that angst. 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.

KERA: One of the things you talk about is having "servant-hearted" officers, and moving past the "warrior" mentality that's remained pervasive in policing. You used to oversee the training academy. How do you search for those qualities or screen for those tendencies in in the recruitment process?

KRAUS: I think it comes down to emotional intelligence, and you have to find some kind of metric to measure that. And I don't think that we have that yet. I don't think that most departments have that. That's why you do so much background checking on the applicants that are there coming in, to try to find that picture of who that individual is.

The warrior mindset is something that is sometimes instilled through the training because we do teach them all about the use of force, how to protect themselves and how to protect the public, and do so effectively. That's training the tactics part of the job, and I think sometimes that builds into that warrior mindset. We just have to have more empathy with the people that we police to, to build that servant component.

One of the things we've started doing with the academy class we have in session now is bringing people from the community that have had negative experiences with the police, at some point in their lives, to talk to the recruits about how that impacted them, how that impacted their families, whether they get sent to jail, whether it was, in their opinion, a bad use of force, so our officers recruits can see how the actions they take will impact others.

KERA: A number of activists in the city say the civil service code is a barrier to accountability in the police department. The argument is that, essentially, it makes it harder to hold bad actors accountable, because it's harder for the public to track police officers who are misbehaving, and it ties your hands somewhat as the chief in what you're able to do in terms of disciplinary action. Is repealing the civil service code something that you think Fort Worth should do?

KRAUS: As you look at that, you need to be careful because you need to go back and ask why this was implemented in the first place. And the reason was to get rid of a good old boy network that was in place where the chief gets to hire whoever he wants to hire. There was no provision for equality. There's no provision for fairness. It's simply who that chief wants to hire, the next chief gets to do whatever that chief wants to do. So it was put into place to create an equal playing field for people that want to be police officers.

Before you start talking about repealing it, you need to look at what we put in place to make sure that we don't go backwards when we do this. As far as access to records and that sort of thing, the legislators decided this was something that they wanted to do to protect police officers that are out there trying to do their jobs so that they are not second-, third- and fourth-guessed by members of the community, that they are set and adhere to certain codes of conduct and practices that maintain how they will do their jobs, but that they don't want them to be detrimentally harmed for doing those jobs.

So, I think there's opportunity to create or to look at a different ways to make the system better, maybe without repealing the law. But it's certainly something you don't want to do without looking at different options.

KERA: And changes to that would have to be done at the legislature, right? That's not something that can be done locally?

KRAUS: Yes, that is not something we do here. We do have certain local rules that we can look at through the local Civil Service Commission, but state as the civil service law is done through the state legislature.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.