From the time the first city marshal was appointed in Fort Worth, shortly after its incorporation in 1873, the Police Department for this western outpost has continued to evolve with the times.
Just over 140 years ago there were only four officers working with the chief in trying to corral crime in a growing Cowtown. Today, the police force in the nation’s now 17th-largest city has more than 1,500 sworn personnel and about 450 nonsworn workers.
Jeff Halstead was selected six years ago as the city’s 24th police chief, coming here from Phoenix and bringing with him experience in a number of crucial law enforcement areas, including responsibility for security planning for Super Bowl XLII.
His assignment as commander of homeland security in Phoenix surely played a role in landing him the job in Fort Worth as the area was preparing to host its first Super Bowl (XLV) in 2010.
Halstead, who said Tuesday that he is retiring as chief to start a consulting firm, also came to town with a new vision, promises of more community involvement and technology innovations that would modernize the department and make it more effective.
Although he brought a spirited energy to the job and a public persona that was well-received by many members of the larger community, his tenure was not without controversy.
There have been a series of mishaps by individual officers — and the mismanaged reaction to them by the police administration — that have tested the public’s faith in its chief and law enforcement in general.
Those unfortunate incidents have been embarrassing, hurtful and, in some cases, financially costly for the city.
The Taser death of Michael Jacobs, 18, who had a history of mental illness, rightfully upset members of the black community, especially when it was learned that the officer who shocked him deployed the Taser for 44 seconds longer than the police dictated. To settle a lawsuit, the city paid his family $2 million.
The city’s involvement with a raid on a gay bar by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission led to accusations of police brutality and a $400,000 settlement with a man who suffered a head injury in that 2009 incident.
There has been a rash of driving-while-intoxicated arrests of Fort Worth officers, including one involving a fatal crash that killed a young mother hit by a drunken policeman driving a city-owned vehicle.
The shooting death of an east side homeowner when officers answered a burglary call at the wrong house is still disturbing.
After all of those unfortunate circumstances, Halstead has been proactive in changing policies and opening communications to improve relations with the police and the larger community.
He worked with the Taser company to ensure that the device could not be deployed for more than the recommended five seconds without being re-engaged; a position was created for a liaison between the police and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; an alcohol awareness program was set up in the department; and he devised a plan to disseminate information about incidents on a more timely basis.
Still, other issues arose that offered a learning opportunity. The black officers’ association accused the chief of discriminating against some minorities on the force — actions they argued “irreparably harmed” their careers. The head of the organization called for the chief’s ouster.
An independent consultant, while finding no overt evidence of racial discrimination, did say there had been hostile and harassing behavior that was allowed to go on. The chief took the consultant’s recommendations and again instituted a plan to address the problems.
Halstead’s departure means another evolution for the Fort Worth department, and his leaving should not be looked upon with any degree of sadness or regret.
Instead it must be seen as an opportunity — first, for the chief to embark on another, presumably successful, career; and for the city to re-examine what it wants in a person who will lead this demanding police force, with all of its challenges and possibilities.