August 21, 2014

Report on Fort Worth Police Department has troubling findings

A culture of harassment has no place at the police department and could harm relationships with the public

For an urban public safety organization that prides itself on being innovative, inclusive, highly professional and responsive to the community, the Fort Worth Police Department has been hit with disturbing findings from an independent investigation.

The city hired Coleman & Associates, a consulting firm, to investigate allegations from three black officers in the department’s Traffic Division who said they were victims of discrimination and harassment.

In a summary report released this week, the consulting firm said the department did not follow its own Code of Ethics and General Orders in dealing with the complaining officers.

Although the consultants’ investigation “did not yield a hard finding of race-based discrimination,” the summary says the officers “were repeatedly subjected to behavior that was hostile, carried out publically (sic) over a period of more than three years and witnessed by higher and lower ranking officers.”

The Star-Telegram has reported that the black officers’ complaints date back to 2010, when three sergeants were accused of building a snowman outside Traffic Division headquarters.

The snowman wore a police cap, had a noose around its neck and was holding a banana.

Two of the three people named in the incident/complaint were disciplined , the report said, but the third individual, “who had been identified as having a major role in the harassment,” was not.

It was after that, the consultants said, when the hostile behavior — including a black supervisor transferred and one complainant investigated by department internal affairs officers — began, and “insufficient actions were taken by members of the Chain of Command to stop the harassment, thereby allowing the behavior to continue.”

Without being specific about the intimidating acts, the report indicates that allegations by “Complainant One” were brought to the attention of top commanders in 2011.

Two years later, Police Chief Jeff Halstead met with the officer. The chief said he and the department had failed the officer.

Although there was no official finding of “race-based discriminatory treatment” by the consultants, it is apparent that to some in the department race is an underlying factor in the noted harassment.

The report summary — the full report is scheduled to be released Friday — states that interviews with other officers indicated “statements made by supervisors in the Traffic Division described the social and physical acts of harassment, and the denigration of Black employees and supervisors.”

The harassment was “widespread” and “recurring,” the summary says.

The chief, who issued a YouTube video noting he had apologized to “anyone and everyone that I have hurt,” said in a written statement that future sustained allegations of “employee misconduct related to racist behavior, toward our employees or our citizens” would result in “significant discipline” that could include termination.

Both the chief and Mayor Betsy Price have acknowledged that the culture described in the consultant’s report has no place in any police department, and most especially in Fort Worth.

As the report points out, if these kinds of actions and attitudes occur within the department among fellow officers, they could translate “to how employees may treat citizens and customers during the routine fulfillment of their duties and responsibilities.”

That kind of bad behavior taken to the streets of our community could lead to distrust of police and conflict between law enforcement and area residents.

Those conflicts could even be precursors of the kind of violent clashes between residents and police we have witnessed elsewhere.

“Based on that review, incidents occurred that were not appropriately addressed,” the mayor said in a statement on the city’s website. “These incidents do a great disservice, not only to citizens, but also to those police officers who continue to serve our diverse communities with (the) highest level of integrity. Everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect and dignity.”

The mayor, the chief and the department must make sure Fort Worth settles for nothing less than mutual respect and dignity.

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