The city of Fort Worth has been without a permanent police oversight director for nearly four months. Now, city officials have selected Raftelis, an executive recruitment firm, to lead a national search for the next head of police oversight in Fort Worth. 

The former director, Kim Neal, left in November to set up another police oversight office in Virginia. Neal was the inaugural director of the Office of Police Oversight Monitor in Fort Worth. The office was created in early 2020, after recommendations by the city’s race and culture task force. Among those recommendations was civilian oversight of the police department.

Assistant city manager Valerie Washington is serving as an interim director following Neal’s departure. She previously worked in Indianapolis, which has an established oversight office. 

Since its inception, the office has seen a steady rise of residents contacting and interacting with them. Now, the city wants to continue that momentum during the search process.

“A big part of police oversight is educating the community on what oversight models are available, and then also determining within that community which type of oversight model would be best here for Fort Worth,” Washington said. 

Plans for more engagement with residents

Raftelis was one of four executive recruitment firms evaluated by the city after the human resources department reached out to seven potential firms encouraging them to apply for the search contract. That process has delayed the filling of the position, but Washington said it was necessary to find a firm that will identify the best director candidates.

“We really wanted to make sure we were finding someone who had experience in the police oversight world because they would understand the importance of the citizen interaction and engagement,” she said. 

Raftelis has experience hiring independent police monitors, according to a presentation to City Council Feb. 7. The cost of the recruitment firm’s contract has not been released.

Raftelis is currently helping to hire a police monitor for Boulder, Colorado. The company, based in Charlotte, North Carolina., has offices across the country, including in Austin.

City staff will present an informal report to City Council March 7 with details on the oversight director search process and timing. 

“We understand with this particular position we’re going to have to really amp up the engagement and probably do some pre-engagement so we understand what the community wants in a new director and then engage them throughout the process,” Washington said.

Dozens of oversight offices exist across the country, according to a database curated by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. 

NACOLE publishes its recommended qualifications for oversight executives, including a bachelor’s degree (with a master’s or Ph.D preferred), at least four years experience in public or private administration or law, and prior managerial or supervisory experience.

“If oversight is doing its job, everyone benefits, both officers and community members,” Cameron McEllhiney, director of training and education with NACOLE, previously told the Report.

Data shows more residents using oversight office

Data presented to the City Council shows formal complaints lodged with the oversight office more than doubled, from 16 in 2021 to 41 in 2022. Commendations increased from zero in 2021 to 14 in 2022.

Previous reporting by the Report found that only one complaint out of 125 submitted when the office began accepting complaints through June 2022 had resulted in disciplinary action longer than a one-day suspension.

Use of force reports reviewed by the oversight office also increased, from 1,384 to 1,897. 

“I would say that when you’re looking at this data set, it’s actually having staff available to … look at the information,” Washington said. “It’s not saying that you had more issues in 2022 that you did in 2021 necessarily … They look at every single report and are able to have a dialogue with the police department.” 

Above all, Washington said, the office needs a director who can work to build relationships with both residents and the police department. 

The new hire will start alongside a new Fort Worth Police Officers Association president in Lloyd Cook, after the former president, Manny Ramirez, assumed a position as Tarrant County commissioner for Precinct 4.

Independence is core to the oversight office’s mission, she said, but effective oversight comes with strengthening lines of communication and cultivating trust.

“I’ve seen a situation where a person didn’t have those traits where they can listen and understand other perspectives,” she said. “… You’ve got to have someone that’s really willing to come in and be independent, but also build relationships. You have to balance that.”

Mediation program on the horizon

In addition to starting the national search, the oversight office is also in the midst of hiring several other employees. These include a policy adviser and an education program coordinator, both new positions. 

Once the new hires are made, the oversight office will have eight employees and an intern.

Catherine Huckaby, deputy director for the oversight office, said she is reviewing applications for the education program coordinator position, who will spearhead a new mediation program between community members and police officers. 

Oversight staff have discussed the possibility of a mediation program for several years, where a resident who complained about an officer’s conduct could sit down with that officer and a third-party mediator to discuss the incident and share their feelings, without going through a formal investigative process.

“A lot of times just sitting next to each other in that forum creates trust and opportunities to build relationships in ways that you don’t get in a confrontational manner,” Washington said.

In June 2022, the oversight office received $30,000 in grant funding from the North Texas Community Foundation, to go toward the salary of the education program coordinator, technology to support the coordinator, and a mediation training contractor. 

“I think that would be a good tool for lower level issues that we find in the community with rudeness or small relationships that really annoy people when they interact with the police,” Washington said. “It’s not such a justice system setting where it’s strict and confined, but where you can just really have an honest dialogue and conversation.” 

North Texas Community Foundation is a financial supporter of the Fort Worth Report.

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...