Outgoing police oversight monitor Kim Neal had a final message for City Council members in a work session Tuesday, delivered on behalf of a years-old working group: It is time for Fort Worth to create a community advisory board for police.

“We met for up to about eight months to work out this proposal,” Neal said. “And that working group came up with several factors that they recommended the council consider if the council proceeds to create the board.” 

Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes had a message of his own: Such a board would only create redundancy without pay-off.

“I haven’t seen one yet that’s lived up to expectations,” Noakes told council members. 

In initial conversations with Neal and Noakes on Tuesday, council members expressed mixed feelings on whether the creation of a community advisory board would be right for Fort Worth.

“I think what is important is the mindset that we get into when we create this, whatever the outcome is, is that we don’t see it as necessarily an adversarial process,” District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck said. “But we see it as an opportunity to really engage in dialogue with our residents across the city so that we can improve.”

Recommendations for the advisory board came nearly two years after the creation of the Mutual Accountability Working Group, which included eight community members and the Fort Worth City Attorney’s Office, the police department, and Office of Police Oversight Monitor. 

Neal’s presentation to council came the same day the city announced she will leave her post in November to create a similar office in Virginia. 

“We do acknowledge that Kim will be leaving the city, and I want to thank her for the nearly three years of helping establish this office,” City Manager David Cooke said. 

Report recommendations met with questions, skepticism

Debate over whether to construct a community advisory board has been ongoing for several years in Fort Worth. The city’s race and culture task force recommended civilian oversight of the police department in 2018, but the city instead decided to fund the creation of the professional oversight office, staffed by city employees. 

“We have effectively addressed that recommendation,” District 2 council member Carlos Flores said at the work session. 

The board, if approved by council, would be voluntary and advisory in nature. Members would review Fort Worth Police Department policies, recommend changes as needed, and identify issues that deserve further review by the board. The board would not dispense discipline; only Fort Worth’s police chief has that power. 

The report recommends appointing 15 members on the community police advisory board, including one selection per council member and three selections by the Office of Police Oversight Monitor. Each board member would serve two years per term, for a maximum of two terms.

“I think 15 is too many,” Beck said. “I think that we get too many cooks in the kitchen, and we will not have productive dialogue.”  

The Mutual Accountability Working Group could not come to a consensus on whether the community oversight board should be able to accept citizen complaints against officers. At present, that responsibility is handled by oversight office staff, who receive, review and forward complaints to internal affairs as necessary. An investigation by the Fort Worth Report in July revealed that only one complaint out of 125 submitted to the office had resulted in disciplinary action longer than a single-day suspension.

District 7 council member Leonard Firestone asked Neal if there was anything involved in the creation of the board that would increase crime in the city; Neal said no, as the board does not have any policy-making capabilities. Firestone also pointed to the fact that many videos reviewed by the oversight office have shown officers acting appropriately.

“Is this board, then, the right tool for the job?” he asked. “Is it a prescription looking for a disease? If we’re doing well, why do we need to insert this board to review the good work that’s been done?”

In the two years since the oversight office’s inception, it has recommended dozens of policies to better the department, including a revised de-escalation policy, improved tracking of citizen complaints and a foot pursuit policy, the majority of which have been accepted.

District 5 council member Gyna Bivens said creation of the board may help residents who are fearful of traditional reporting avenues, like the police department or the oversight office, voice their concerns.

“People who come from disenfranchised backgrounds have problems dealing with the system as we know it,” she said. 

What’s next for the proposal

The earliest the City Council could take action to create the board is Nov. 8. Councilmember Chris Nettles recommended another work session discussion on Nov. 1, to ensure council members are on the same page before any vote. 

Among the key points of concern brought up by council members Flores and Firestone:

  • Fears of opening the city to lawsuits.
  • A potential chilling effect on law enforcement officers doing their job for fear of frivolous complaints.
  • Board members disclosing confidential information, such as an officer’s G-file, which contains personnel discipline history not usually available to the public.
  • Adding work to the police department’s internal affairs unit. 

Nettles publicly announced his intent to bring several amendments to the current proposal, as well, including allowing residents to file complaints with the board directly and allowing the board to review and suggest policy decisions after a critical incident. 

“We were grateful to have this dialogue to see where our offices are, and I look forward to sitting down with Carlos if there’s some way we can get through a decision to support this,” Nettles said. “Even Firestone, those were some good questions that you had, so I look forward to working with you guys. ”

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.

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Emily WolfGovernment Accountability Reporter

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Round Rock, Texas, she spent several years at the University of Missouri-Columbia majoring in investigative...