Nightmare played out for real

08/23/2014 12:00 AM

08/23/2014 9:12 AM

As Fort Worth’s chief of police, I am dedicated to improving this profession not only here but across the United States.

It is every police chief’s nightmare to be the leader of a police department and face such tragedies as in-custody deaths, controversial use of force and deadly force decisions.

As we have seen in many communities, including Fort Worth, these tragedies hurt so many and continue to erode the most valuable asset in policing, the public’s trust.

Here in Fort Worth, I am proud to have a 40-member Community Advisory Board, more than 300 Clergy and Police Alliance (CAPA) members, more than 20 Ministers Against Crime and 800-plus Citizens on Patrol (Code Blue) members, all ready and willing to assist our community should we experience a horrific incident like what we have seen in the news lately.

As chief, seeing this type of difficult scene play out in the media for almost three decades, I find it apparent that the police profession has to change. We are not doing enough within our communities!

I’m in total agreement with the strongest critics of the police profession: We simply have to do more as it relates to building trust and establishing stronger relationships in every community.

In the past five years, the Fort Worth Police Department has become a technology leader with more than 620 “on-officer” video cameras. These cameras, called AXON-Flex, are reliable and technologically advanced devices that will revolutionize policing in America and around the world.

Fort Worth has more officers wearing these cameras than any other city in the United States, and many cities are just joining this paradigm shift.

Frankly, as a profession, we have to join it.

The residents of our cities deserve it, our officers need it and our critics even support it.

The AXON camera provides the transparency and the immediate evidence that has been missing from officer-involved shootings.

In addition to the cameras themselves, police departments must make it a priority to store the massive files of videos (we have more than 21,000 so far) on a reliable, independent and very secure server.

Our files are stored in “Evidence.com,” and there is absolutely no way in which any video or any portion of the video can be changed by our employees or supervisors.

Many agencies find themselves struggling for support from all stakeholders, especially police labor associations, in implementing such a valuable change in policing.

Thankfully, in Fort Worth we remain one of the leaders in community policing. Our Community Advisory Board, the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, the district attorney’s office and the ACLU have supported this paradigm shift.

These trusted partnerships allowed us to move quickly in implementing this technology.

The AXON cameras, increased transparency, rapid release of critical information, community partnerships and, most importantly, remaining engaged with community leaders and activists prior to tragic events, will be the playbook for police chiefs of the future.

The power of prayer, unwavering support and respect for all residents and dedicated patience during these challenging times will prove to be our community playbook.

Only by working together and supporting one another will we experience true change within our communities. We are blessed to have this kind of relationship in Fort Worth.

Jeffrey W. Halstead has been Fort Worth’s police chief since December 2008. www.fortworthpd.com

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