Deputy Chief Ed Kraus was sworn in as Fort Worth's new interim police chief Tuesday. He’ll lead the department until a replacement can be found for outgoing Chief Joel Fitzgerald, who was fired by city hall last week.
After taking the oath of office in the city council chambers, police officers and city leadership gave the newly minted Interim Chief an enthusiastic round of applause. Kraus seemed a bit surprised by the crowd.
“I thought this was going to be a small formality not a big deal, but I appreciate everybody coming out and all the support you’ve shown and all the prayers you’ve offered,” Kraus said, adding: “Now get back to work.”
Kraus has been rising in the ranks of the Fort Worth Police Department for 26 years and says he’s strongly considering applying to be the police chief full-time. In the meantime, he says doesn’t plan to act as a placeholder, saying that he’ll make changes he thinks are necessary to move the department forward.
“The main thing is to strengthen the community relationships that we’ve already started to build,” Kraus said. “Chief Fitzgerald put us in a good position to do that. He implemented a bunch of good policies and programs we can build on.”
Kraus says he was well prepared to step into as Fort Worth’s top cop by now-former Chief Joel Fitzgerald.
“I owe him a lot,” Kraus said.
Fitzgerald, the city’s first black police chief, had a rocky relationship with city management and rank-and-file officers. He was fired last week after a confrontation in Washington, D.C., with the leader of a statewide police association.
City Manager David Cooke said the firing wasn’t a direct result of the Washington confrontation, though it was cited in a letter of termination addressed to Fitzgerald. In the letter, Cooke cited an “inability to effectively lead" and an "inability to build relationships with other department directors and employees” as part of the cause for firing Fitzgerald, and said Fitzgerald’s interactions with others raised concerns about his “ability to compromise.”
Earlier this year, Fitzgerald was publicly named as the finalist for the job of police commissioner in Baltimore, though he pulled his name later citing his son's ill health and amid a public battle between city leaders in Baltimore and allegations he'd overstated his accomplishments.
Last year, tensions between Fitzgerald and city management grew so strained that he appeared to consider requesting an investigation from the city's human resources department over whether negative performance evaluations were the result of racial bias. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fitzgerald drafted a letter to that effect on Christmas Eve last year, but did not send it.
Fitzgerald said last week he plans to challenge his termination.
At the Tuesday swearing-in ceremony for Fitzgerald's replaceme, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told Kraus he'll “bring such a needed, healing era of trust and engagement in the community.”
Speaking with reporters afterward, Price declined to discuss Fitzgerald’s tenure, but noted the enthusiasm of officers at his replacement’s swearing-in.
“I think that’s a good mandate,” Price said. “And I think it sends a clear message that we’re on the right track here.”
Price says she hopes Kraus will empower the Fort Worth police force to build trust with the city’s diverse communities.
“Chief Kraus brings a new level of motivation to these officers,” said Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Manny Ramirez.
“He brings a new level of motivation to these officers,” Ramirez said. “I think the officers know that he legitimately wants to give the resources and the tools they need to fight crime out there and keep our citizens as safe as they can be.”
Reaction from the community to the change in leadership has been less enthusiastic. Last week, a handful of city residents lambasted the city council and city manager last week for Fitzgerald’s firing. While he had, at times, faced criticism from activists looking to him to build bridges between the police force and the city’s communities of color, Fitzgerald managed to win over some skeptics during his time as chief.
Ramirez, the police officers’ union leader, says he hopes the hiring process for the new chief will move quickly.