Fort Worth City Council will vote Nov. 8 on whether to create a community advisory board for police, after hearing from the deputy city attorney, the chief of police and the police oversight monitor in a final presentation on the subject.
By the end of the meeting, council members Jared Williams, Gyna Bivens, Chris Nettles and Elizabeth Beck all said they supported the advisory board’s creation. Council members Leonard Firestone and Alan Blaylock said they did not support the board’s creation, and council members Michael Crain, Carlos Flores and Mayor Mattie Parker did not make a definitive statement.
Deputy City Attorney Laetitia Brown gave the presentation to City Council members Tuesday, the second time in the past three weeks that the board has been brought up in a council work session.
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. At the last meeting, council members expressed mixed opinions about the necessity of the board.
Both District 8 council member Nettles and District 9 council member Beck brought up the lack of trust some Fort Worth residents have in the police department, particularly historically marginalized communities. District 7 council member Leonard Firestone pushed back on the assertion that a lack of trust was citywide, and pointed toward approved Crime Control and Prevention District funding for programs designed to interact with the community.
“There is no trust problem in District 7,” Firestone said. “…Only a desire to see more police up there.”
Beck said it was disingenuous for Firestone to make that claim, and asked him if he’d talked to any Black residents in his district.
“It’s the brown and Black members of this community that have that distrust,” she said.
Despite continued disagreements, the vote must move forward sooner rather than later, District 5 council member Bivens said.
“It’s very important to have this fleshed out before Kim (Neal’s) departure,” Bivens said. Neal is leaving her post mid-November. “While we have this gem of wisdom in Kim Neal, any gray areas can be worked out.”
The presentation addressed feedback from council members in that meeting, including a recommendation to downsize the advisory board from 15 members to 11. Under the new sizing recommendation, each council member would appoint one board member beginning after the 2023 election.
It also solidified council consensus that residents with felony convictions should be barred from serving on the advisory board. In the last meeting, council members had also floated the idea of allowing only those eligible for jury duty to serve on the board. In addition, residents will be required to undergo several training sessions and sign confidentiality agreements.
Despite the changes made to the proposal, Police Chief Neil Noakes remained steadfast in his opposition to the board. He instead urged council to let the police department revive an old working group, where the police chief selected members of the community to advise the department on various issues.
“I’ve talked to very many chiefs,” Noakes said. “Every one said (community boards) are adversarial in nature … We have police in one silo, community in another silo, talking about each other but not talking to each other.”
Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa also spoke to council members about the old working group, which he credited former chiefs for, but said the new proposal could have specific benefits.
“The independent board would provide a higher level of impartiality and a greater degree of accountability than you could reasonably expect to occur if the advisory board is appointed by the chief of police,” Costa said.
District 4 council member Blaylock expressed concern that current and retired police officers would be barred from being on the advisory board, and said he wasn’t supportive of the proposal as it was currently written. District 6 council member Jared Williams said it was no different from other boards, where current employees are not allowed.
“We have a precedent of boards and commissions,” Williams said. “We’re complicating a simple and precedented structure.”
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Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
Clarification: council member Michael Crain was present at the work session.