In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Kim Neal, Fort Worth’s police oversight monitor, discusses a new community-police survey set to be released in the fall, and what else residents can expect from the office.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For an unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.

Emily Wolf: Could you explain the purpose and role of the Office of Police Oversight Monitor?

Kim Neal: Sure. Well, the police oversight monitors’ office was put in place in 2020 to ensure accountability and transparency in the police department. So we monitor different functions of the police department, any function that ultimately would impact a community member, particularly a community member who has an encounter with the police. And so we will monitor those functions and make recommendations and observations around those specific functions around those encounters.

Wolf: Your office has now been in existence for two years. As you’ve gotten your feet under you, what are some of the main priorities you’re working on through the rest of this year?

Neal: Our main priorities are really to get more involved with face-to-face community engagement. So that was something, of course, we were prohibited from doing because of our pandemic issues. And so we’ve been stepping up our game, if you will, on doing more community engagements out in different communities in Fort Worth. 

One of the things we’re looking forward to doing is a ‘Know your rights’ campaign, where we’ll get out there and share with community members on how to handle an encounter with a police officer to ensure that everyone remains safe. And also to advertise our office more. So the community members have concerns with those encounters, and so they’re trying to address those encounters right there when they’re actually engaging with the officer. Particularly if it’s a contentious situation, then instead come to our office so that we can kind of help facilitate the conversation. Or if it leads to a complaint, we can help facilitate that complaint or commendation, even, of an officer. 

One of the other things we really are looking forward to doing is our second round of surveys. We did them in 2020. And really, for me, it was a way to assess the perception of policing, both from a community member standpoint as well as the police officer standpoint. And it was really a great time to do it. Because we couldn’t go out in public and do engagements and ask the same questions, but we could do it virtually. We really wanted to get folks to know that they could share with us anonymously, because we knew that community members were learning more about our office and learning and building that trust of our office. And the same thing was occurring with the police officers. 

We want to basically take that survey, tweak it a little bit — not a lot because we want to be able to compare results — and do it again this year, both from a community member standpoint and the police officer standpoint, to see if those perceptions have shifted any and either in a negative way, or in a positive way, and if there’s some additional recommendations that both community members and police officers have with regards to moving forward and enhancing those relationships. And then we’ll have someone independently outside of our office, analyze those results. We’ll take those resources, put it in a report as we did in 2020, and produce a report. 

And then we’ll take from those same comments, if you will, from community members and officers and create some community engagements in each of the police divisions. 

Wolf: Your survey is a bit unique compared to what I think some folks might think of when they hear an oversight survey because you are looking at both the community and the officers that serve the community. Why in your view is it important to hear both sides of the community on this?

Neal: In 2020, it was important from a different perspective that it will be in 2022. I wanted to see what the perceptions were around policing but also wanted to see what the perceptions were around civilian oversight, because it was a new concept coming to Fort Worth. And so I wanted to see what folks thought civilian oversight law enforcement was both from a community member standpoint and from a police officer standpoint, and then give them some priorities … And so we’ll still have that question in the survey this year, and look at those priorities. 

This year, I think it’s important to get both sides because it’s interesting to see where folks are in agreement. Because policing can and cannot be contentious, depending on the community, I think it’s often interesting to see that there are a lot of subject matters that both community and police agree on, they just go about a different way of trying to overreach in that agreement.

 And so one of the things that came out of the survey in 2020 is … that community members want to engage police officers more, and a lot of our police officers want to engage community members more. Community members will say that they feel like sometimes officers are not approachable, depending on the community. Some will say that they feel officers are approachable. 

And then from an officer perspective, officers will say, ‘Well, you know, we’re running from call to call, and so sometimes we don’t have the time to engage community members.’ So I think doing an exercise like this, and having the department’s commitment to ensure that officers are a part of the exercise allows them to further use this mechanism to build up relationships and mitigate divisions. 

Often when there’s crime going on in a neighborhood, our police department is always good at trying to prevent crime and coming up with ways to prevent crime. What I hear from a lot of community members is that they wish they could be more a part of that conversation … So doing those community engagements will allow community members and officers to have a venue where they can actually do community problem solving together.

Wolf: You mentioned that the survey this time around is likely to be quite similar to the 2020 survey, but with a few differences. Could you walk me through those differences?

Neal: We’re going to add a couple more questions about our office because we want to assess how people feel about our office, we want to be fair. And also we want to put out there how folks would perceive and feel about a voluntary restorative justice mediation program. So I feel that just adding and will just be a couple of additional questions, but adding just a couple of questions around maybe a few more than a couple of maybe three, three, or four. But adding those questions in that will allow us to see how we need to move forward specifically for our office because it’s still a new office. 

And frankly, I know that a lot of community members are still learning about our office. And so I’m hopeful that those who have utilized our office will be honest and forthright about how they feel about encounters with our office so that we can, in fact improve and be as transparent as we can and what we do, but also that we hopefully we can get more information out about our office to those individuals who don’t know a lot about our office.

Wolf: For those interested, how can they fill out the survey?

Neal: It will be an electronic survey, as it was in 2020. And there will be a link where they can fill it out that will be sent. It will be advertised through City News and all the city news media, and a lot of times we have organizations like your organization help us to get the word out. So we’ll use the media as well. 

We’ll also use community groups, many of the community groups use that link to the survey and they put that out there on their social media sites or when they do community engagements. And so we’ll utilize all of those mechanisms. 

The survey will be available in both English and Spanish, and also we will have physical versions available of the survey. So if we have folks who may be challenged technologically that just want to call in, we can give them the survey over the phone. We can also take surveys to community centers and public libraries that have them available as well, so folks can fill them out. And so we’re going to try to do, you know, do as much as we can to get it out there. 

And hopefully, we had about 4,000 residents last year respond to the survey. Apparently, that’s a good number, because in most city surveys, the numbers are quite low. And that was citywide. From the officer perspective, we have right under 900 officers. So that is a good number, because we have as far as sworn officers I think at that time right now we have right under 1,800. And we had less than that last year in 2020, so those are all the different ways that we plan on getting out into the community.

Wolf: The survey collects demographic information, in addition to answers to the specific questions you mentioned. How will the results of the survey be used by the office moving forward?

Neal: So from a demographic standpoint, we were able to see in 2020, particularly based on age and ethnicity, how there was a shift in how individuals felt about the police and police encounters. And so by looking at information like that, then we know and hopefully the police department will know as well, when they do their engagements, there are certain communities that we definitely need to work better at building up that trust. And so that’s what that told me in 2020. And that’ll continue to enlighten us for 2022. So that we’ll know that when we do these community engagements. 

Frankly, that’s why ‘Know Your Rights’ is so important. Because we know that we want to focus on that for all populations in Fort Worth, and particularly our younger generation that tends to have more issues with police officers than other generations. And so we know that we need to focus on that community and build up those relationships and make officers a part of those community engagements so that we can build some trust there.

Wolf: Do you expect any different perceptions or results from the survey compared to the one in 2020?

Neal: That’s a big guess, I have absolutely no idea. I mean, if you think about what was going on in 2020, we had the pandemic, we had the unfortunate deaths of Mr. George Floyd and Miss Breonna Taylor. And then we had our, some call them riots, some call them civil disorders across the country. And so there was definitely a shift, what I call the modern day civil rights movement in 2020. That is currently not active right now in 2022. But we still are having a conversation. 

And so I have no idea how those results will work. You know, I hope that as far as our office is concerned, that folks will know a little bit more about our office. But like I said, I’ll also want folks to be fair and transparent in their answering of the questions, because I want to make sure that we are addressing the needs of the community as well. 

As far as the encounters with police officers, I’m hopeful that those encounters have gotten better. But if they haven’t, then we need to know that. And we need to figure out how we can move forward. And so one of the things that was really enlightening for 2020 was that a lot of folks did give suggestions on how to move forward. And so I’m looking forward to some of those same answers and to see some of the innovative ideas that community members have moving forward.

Wolf: Is there anything else you’d like to share or talk about in regards to the survey or your office’s work generally?

Neal: As far as the survey is concerned, I just encourage as many folks as they can to complete the survey. The survey is very important. It is completely anonymous. And that’s why we have a completely independent person analyzing it. It isn’t someone in the police department, it’s not somebody in the city government doing it, but someone who is proficient at doing the analysis. 

The voluntary demographic information is important because it allows us to see trends and allows us to see where we need to do most of our work. And so it’s not to take a person’s age or race or gender, and identify it is really just look at the trends and see what we need to do, you know, roll up our sleeves and do the work.

And so as many people as we can, including all of our communities, if they can fill out that survey and share it with their families to fill out that survey, we really appreciate it because it really will define how our office moves forward, and impact the relationships between particularly our marginalized communities and Fort Worth Police Department. 

The other thing is that as we do engagements in the community, and you hear about them, we’ll talk about the survey, we’ll talk about the office, we’re open to any questions that folks have, any concerns that folks have, any commendations that folks have, we want to hear it. And so if you hear about anything that we’re doing in the community, please come to it and encourage your friends and family members to come and share their thoughts. 
If you’re not signed up for City News, feel free to go to the city’s website. Also, you know, you can always contact our office and we can help you get signed up, either for the city’s news or as far as our listserv is concerned. So we maintain a separate distribution list. And we can put your information on that. So we want to get the word out there as many ways as we can. Fort Worth is a huge community, and so being in existence for two years, we know we have not reached every community, but we’re trying our darndest to do it so all the help we can get from community members and community organizations would be greatly appreciated.

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.  At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Emily Wolf

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative...