After more than two hours of public comment by 38 residents on Election Night, the City Council made a final decision on an issue that has dragged on for years: Fort Worth will not create a community police review board.
The deciding vote came four years after an initial recommendation by the city’s race and culture task force, which argued such a board would promote transparency, accountability and trust among law enforcement. Bob Ray Sanders, one of the task force’s members and a fixture in Fort Worth’s history, spoke in support of the board at the Tuesday meeting.
“As the native son of Fort Worth, I rise to implore you elected officials to do the right thing tonight as it relates to the proposed community police advisory board,” Sanders said. “I know some of you, perhaps most of you, have already decided to vote against it. And I’m sure there’s nothing I can say here tonight that will change your mind. But as Maya Angelou would say, ‘And still I rise’ because I want to be on record.”
Council members voted 5-4 against a proposal to create the board, brought forward by District 8 council member Chris Nettles, after more than an hour of tense back-and-forth between the members and final statements on the matter.
Council members Leonard Firestone and Alan Blaylock had previously signaled they would vote against the proposal, and they were joined by Carlos Flores, Michael Crain and Mayor Mattie Parker.
Council members Gyna Bivens, Jared Williams, Chris Nettles and Elizabeth Beck voted yes on the board proposal. Nettles emphasized in his closing statements that Fort Worth’s Black and brown communities feel the most need for the community board.
“You would never understand walking in a Black man’s shoes,” Nettles said to those gathered in opposition to the board. “Understand what it feels like to have a target on your back. Because of the type of hair that you have, the type of cars you drive and the type of neighborhood that you live in.”
If approved, the board would’ve acted as an advisory body rather than an oversight body, as the Office of Police Oversight Monitor currently does. It would’ve been composed of 9 members — increasing to 11 after the 2023 City Council races — whose tasks were to review police policies, hear community input, and act as a sounding board for the police chief, city council and the oversight monitor.
Guidelines were set out for membership, including a bar on police officers, retired or otherwise, and their families, from serving.
In addition to Sanders, several other prominent members of Fort Worth’s Black community spoke in support of creating the board, including Dione Sims, who is set to serve as the founding executive director for the National Juneteenth Museum; Michael Bell, senior pastor of Greater Saint Stephen First Church; and Pamela Young of United Fort Worth.
“It is what the community that you have been elected to serve has asked for,” Young said. “The community has asked for this. And this board is not adversarial. That’s outlined in the ordinance. This board is not oversight, by the way to anybody who’s using the word oversight. That is not what this board is.”
Many who spoke against the board argued it would be duplicating efforts already undertaken by the police monitor’s office, and the chief himself, to reform the police department. Among them was Russell Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance.
“The office (of police oversight monitor) has only been in place one year and is reporting success in resolving citizen complaints pertaining to the Fort Worth Police Department,” Fuller said. “Initiating another administrative body to look at the same information to make recommendations on the same information is a waste of time and money.”
Chief Neil Noakes said he’d never seen a community board that actually improved relations between police and residents. Noakes has been an outspoken opponent of the proposal since it reached council, and gave previous comments to that effect in earlier council work sessions.
“Instead of creating a community board that will put us at odds with one another, let’s invite an opportunity that allows us to work together,” Noakes said at the Tuesday meeting. “Instead of placing us in different silos, let’s all come to the same table and work together. Instead of keeping us separate and apart and talking about each other, let’s come together and talk to each other.”
Kim Neal, outgoing police oversight monitor, was among those who have pushed for the board’s creation. Her departure was mentioned by several attendees, including council members, as a loss to the city, but they expressed confidence that Fort Worth could find a suitable replacement to continue working with Noakes moving forward.
“It’s about city leadership and police leadership that are encouraging and wanting a change agent,” Firestone said in his closing statements. “And that’s what we’re experiencing … We’re addressing problems now.”
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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.