David Cooke, Fort Worth City Manager, said this will be his first big hire as the city manager. This is his first time hiring a police chief. He will also need to fill the vacancy of Charles Daniels, the former assistant city manager who oversaw the police department.
Cooke said the vacancies mean a time to think about change. Weighing on these decisions are the Fort Worth Police Department’s previous tensions over racial diversity and inclusion within the department and the community.
“I use any vacancy as an opportunity to test whether we want to do anything differently,” Cooke said. “Do we want to work differently, and then what is the type of person we want to hire?”
Whoever replaces former police chief Jeff Halstead will have to consider the department’s past as well as the two active federal civil rights lawsuits against the former chief and the city.
Last December, former Sgt. Delbert Johnson sued for racial discrimination. This January, three more police officers filed another civil rights case.
But racial tensions existed before the lawsuits, said Deputy Chief Charles Ramirez.
In November 2013, Halstead began meeting with a group of four ministers called the Coalition to discuss unease within FWPD.
“The Coalition expressed their concerns as far as lack of involvement, lack of communication and lack of inclusion in certain neighborhoods,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said during those meetings, the city created what is now known as the 3-E Action Plan, which stands for equity, equality, everyone.
“It was developed back then, but it was put on the back-burner,” said Ramirez, who currently oversees the carrying out of the 3-E plan.
After three racial discrimination complaints, the city hired Coleman & Associates Consulting to independently investigate FWPD in 2014, according to the Coleman Report.
According to the report, two complaints were filed from supervisors in the police department with the third from “an officer of the Fort Worth Black Police Officers Association (FWBPOA).”
The report found that racial discrimination occurred.
“The response to the complaint situation reflects negatively on the Fort Worth Police Department because of the department’s willingness to accept and condone aggressive and intimidating behavior,” according to the report.
The Coleman Report recommended ways to improve internal and community race relations. Ramirez said these recommendations were added to the 3-E Action Plan, which was finalized in September 2014.
Ramirez said Halstead, Daniels and Cooke signed the plan.
“There was stuff that we included in the 3-E Action Plan that the chief was responsible for because he created the atmosphere,” said Ramirez.
“[The Coleman Report] was a contract between he and the city manager saying that he would do these specific things to improve the relationship between not only the African American community but also the Black Police Officers association here,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said FWPD has acted on many of the steps in the plan, even after Halstead’s retirement this January.
“We’re about six or seven months into it,” he said. “So we’ve moved forward with it and actually completed a lot.”
The police administration now meets with citizens on a regular basis.
“We created the community advisory board that is made up of citizens and we meet monthly to discuss issues,” Ramirez said. “We allow them to represent their communities.”
He said the Ministers Against Crime program was reinstated. It is intended to be “an effective liaison between the FWPD and the African-American community,” according to the 3-E Action Plan.
“That relationship was actually strained with the former chief,” said Ramirez. “Then with the plan, we built that relationship back up.”
“At the time, [Halstead’s] lack of acknowledging that group as leaders in the community is what made them probably feel detached,” he said.
Additionally, there have been changes in labor and hiring. Ramirez said the presidents of the Black Police Officer’s Association and the Latino Peace Officers Association now sit on the board of the law enforcement labor union.
The direction of the Fort Worth Police Department could shift with the hiring of the new police chief, who is not mandated to follow the 3-E Action Plan.
“The Coleman Report and the after-effects of the Coleman Report were basically mandates to Chief Jeff Halstead on what he needed to do, and he was evaluated on it,” said Ramirez. “He would be held accountable on it by the city manager’s office.”
The new chief will have more leeway.
“A new chief may come in and say, well I don’t think that’s necessary at this point,” said Ramirez. “The new chief may not agree to meet with all the associations because he doesn’t have to.”
However, Ramirez said a fresh perspective could be beneficial to the police department.
“A new chief would be in his own right to say, ‘I like what you’re doing here, but in my previous experience, this has worked a little bit better,’” Ramirez said. “So doing something different, maybe something he’s experienced, and coming up with a different plan could be good. He may have a better idea.”
City Manager David Cooke said the new chief will have to take the police department’s history into account when moving forward in the department’s complicated relationship with racial diversity and inclusion.
“Not only are they going to have to look at the 3-E plan and what that means internally, they need to develop their own strategic plan with the police department,” Cooke said.
“Diversity should always be part of the plan.”
Ali Montag is the education and community editor for The 109. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @ali_montag.