The Fort Worth Police Department wants to spend just under $16 million in the next fiscal year, with at least half of that going to replace hundreds of police cars and motorcycles, and a portion going to buy body vests and helmets that provide better protection from rifle shots.
The money to buy the bulk of the equipment would come from the Crime Control and Prevention District tax and $2.1 million the city has garnered in asset forfeitures from the state and the Treasury and Justice departments. Asset forfeiture programs have come under fire in Texas and many other states because some programs allow police to keep cash and property from people who are never charged with a crime or convicted. The Justice Department suspended its program late last year.
The Fort Worth department wants to replace about 270 vehicles, a mix of high-mileage cars and motorcycles, said Melissa Ramon, acting assistant police director. The $8 million purchase represents about 20 percent of the city’s police fleet of about 1,250 vehicles. An additional $78,000 is being spent on a new van for the special response unit, she said.
“The past couple of years we haven’t replaced as many as we normally do,” Ramon said.
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But, even before the deadly sniper shooting of Dallas police officers in July, Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald was making it a priority to buy the body armor that fits over bulletproof vests, bulletproof helmets and body shields, said Sgt. Marc Povero, a department spokesman.
The department has proposed spending $670,500 on the safety equipment.
His number one priority is officer safety. His goal is to eventually equip every officer with that equipment.
Sgt. Marc Povero, Fort Worth police spokesman
“His No. 1 priority is officer safety,” Povero said. “His goal is to eventually equip every officer with that equipment.”
The City Council will hold one more public hearing on a proposed $1.7 billion fiscal 2017 budget, on Sept. 13.
The Police Department’s proposed budget stands at $226 million, down from $229 million in fiscal 2016. The department has 1,810 employees. In the new budget year, the department is adding 31 positions for the new Sixth Patrol Division in north Fort Worth. The crime control district is funding the hiring of five new school resource officers and 2.5 positions in the Code Blue neighborhood policing program.
The department also wants to buy a $4.4 million helicopter, of which $3 million is coming from the crime control district and the remaining $1.4 million from two grants from the Urban Area Security Initiative, a Homeland Security program. The department wants to replace a helicopter from 1996.
An additional $750,000 would be spent to buy 160 pole-mounted movable cameras that will expand the department’s Real Time Crime Center, established in 2015, and license plate readers that are mounted to squad cars. The center operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and provides officers with real-time reports, information, support and leads. The cameras would be placed in high-crime zones, the department said.
The license plate readers will give officers quick information on such things as whether it’s a stolen car or the owner has outstanding warrants, Povero said.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other criminal justice watchdog groups have raised concerns for years that the devices allow the potential for inappropriate invasion of citizens’ privacy.
Additional funds, about $350,000, are being used to pay for storage of video from police body cameras and hand-held radios are being purchased for officers who are planned to graduate from four upcoming recruitment classes, and $202,500 on night vision devices.
The department is also proposing to buy a forklift, another mechanical lift, a density meter for the narcotics unit and radiation meters.
And six customer service kiosks totaling $42,000 will be bought to put in each of the department’s division headquarters, allowing residents to come in and obtain such things a police reports on their own.
The city’s overall proposed fiscal 2017 budget is 2.5 percent higher than last year’s budget. The general fund, the portion that covers police and fire services, community services and city operations, totals $639 million, up 4.6 percent from $610.9 million in fiscal 2016. Fort Worth is seeing an increase in revenue from property and sales taxes.
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