Note to readers: Full survey results are included in a document midway through this story.
Discontent among Fort Worth Police officers grew deeper Monday, a new survey shows.
Nearly 84 percent of those who responded to the Fort Worth Police Officers Association survey said morale has gone down in the department over the past two years, or since Joel Fitzgerald became police chief.
Officers expressed concern about colleagues being disciplined by different standards and worry about an “effective strategic plan” for the department.
“It is very clear that the officers in this department have significant concern of Chief Fitzgerald over the past two years,” Rick Van Houten, president of the Police Officers Association, said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “They’ve made their voices known.”
“In the end, we will work with whoever is the chief,” he said, but asked, “Can you help somebody with these type of failing grades or can you not?”
Of the 1,600 POA members only 465 responded, a response rate of less than 30 percent that drew criticism from the chief and others.
Fitzgerald is the city’s first black police chief, and was hired in 2015. He called Monday’s survey “unscientific” and was among those to note that the participation rate of officers in the survey was low.
Even so, “I stand ready to meet with the POA so we can identify and resolve membership concerns,” he said in a written statement. “Most importantly, we must work collaboratively to be an exemplary department that is service-minded, community-oriented and effective in accomplishing its mission.”
The Police Officers Association has indicated dissatisfaction with Fitzgerald — who has been mired in controversy for months — for a while. A controversial arrest was taped in December and went viral after a white officer arrested a black resident.
Some members of the association listed grievances they’ve had against the chief since this summer, including his demotion of two administrators tied to the leak of a controversial arrest video and the dismissal of an officer who shot a man holding a barbecue fork.
The results of the survey now go to City Manager David Cooke. He will decide whether to take any action.
“I support Chief Fitzgerald and his team,” he said in a statement. “He’s cultivating a department that approaches problems differently and one that embraces best practices and attitudes for a service-oriented and community-focused department to meet the needs of all our citizens.”
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price released a statement saying she has confidence that Cooke and his staff will be able to “address any issues within the police department and across any department within the city.”
“I acknowledge there may be internal struggles within the police department, as there are within any organization with over 1,600 employees,” Price said. “I am committed to working with Chief Fitzgerald, our city manager and all labor groups to ensure we are supporting our police officers and remain one of the safest big cities in the nation.”
A closer look
Members of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association were asked more than a dozen questions about the chief.
One question asked how much confidence officers have in Fitzgerald, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being low. The answer was 3.7.
Another asked, on that same scale, how officers evaluate the chief’s performance. The answer was 4.25.
At the same time, officers expressed concerns about the chief’s ability to sustain morale, unbiased discipline and his ability to inspire others, the survey showed.
“We think of the survey as a performance evaluation,” Van Houten said.
The survey and POA drew criticism Monday by some.
“In a time that POA leadership should be pursuing creative and healthy solutions to strengthen unity within our department, they continue to push a political agenda that is counterproductive and serves the interest of less than 30% of our department,” a statement by the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization board of directors said.
“The NLLEO supports Chief Fitzgerald and will continue to work with the Chief and all department and city leaders in areas that strengthen camaraderie among all officers and strengthen trust in the communities we’ve sworn to protect.”
Van Houten said it’s “no secret some of our members wanted to do a no-confidence” vote on Fitzgerald, something he has called outdated and believes would be in poor taste.
He noted that the survey didn’t ask for Fitzgerald to be fired.
And he said officers will work with whoever is in office.
“Most officers want politics to stay out of their job,” Van Houten said. “In the end, we want what is best for the officers and for the citizens, which is (to) clear out the stumbling blocks.”
Criticism started to surface after a controversial arrest in Fort Worth last year.
In December, police officer William Martin, who is white, was caught on tape making inappropriate comments as he arrested Jacqueline Craig and her two daughters.
Craig, who is black, had called 911, saying a neighbor assaulted her son after accusing him of littering. When Martin arrived, the situation escalated when he asked Craig: “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?”
Martin ended up arresting both of Craig’s daughters — one who videotaped the incident and the other who stepped between the officer and her mother.
Martin was suspended for 10 days.
Some said that was too long; others said it wasn’t long enough and the officer should have been fired.
Later, two top level officers were accused of leaking video and files related to this case.
Months later, city leaders named a four-person task force on race and culture aimed at addressing fallout from Craig’s arrest.