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Study shows Fort Worth needs more police officers

The Police Department needs to add 59 patrol officers to reduce response times and meet other immediate needs, but it has rejected a recommendation to pull those officers from the neighborhood police program.

The staffing study by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum, or PERF, presented to the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday, confirmed what officials and residents have said for years: The department needs more officers. Police Chief Jeff Halstead is working on a five-year plan to make that happen.

Both Halstead and the council disagreed with the nonprofit’s recommendation to meet patrol needs by moving 60 of the 94 neighborhood police officers to patrol.

“It doesn’t work for the personality of our department and really the expectations of the citizens,” Halstead said. “They have a fondness and a service-based relationship with the NPOs.”

“And really, what PERF researchers are trying to accomplish by moving those NPOs to patrol — community engagement, working on crime trends in a beat, having the availability of more talk time with an officer — we are already accomplishing that with the NPOs.”

Besides patrol officers, the study found that the department needs 20 more patrol criminal investigators, 61 detectives in the criminal investigators unit, another zero-tolerance team of eight officers, 17 more sergeants in various roles and 60 more civilian positions.

Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said that the study is a “start” but that the council must act aggressively in funding the positions for the safety of both residents and officers.

“We are still playing catch-up,” Van Houten said. “This plan is a great plan, but it is a snapshot of where we are today. These are all recommendations of where we should be today, not next year after we add 30,000 more people or two years from now when we have added 60,000 more people to the city.”

Needs for a growing city

Stephanie Winquest, president of the Sendera Ranch Homeowners Association in far north Fort Worth, said call times and police presence are major issues for residents there.

“I think with the resources they have, the police are doing the best they can, but obviously the city needs to look into adding more resources,” she said.

From January to May, an officer took an average of seven minutes and one second to arrive at a scene in far north Fort Worth after being dispatched. In the central city, the response time was 4:10; in the east, 5:03; and in the south and west, 5:31.

Winquest is worried that if the city doesn’t act soon, the area will fall even further behind. But she agreed that the city should not transfer the neighborhood officers to patrol.

The Sendera Ranch development, which has 3,500 homes now, is slated for over 8,000 in its master plan.

The population of far north Fort Worth grew 114 percent from 2000 to 2010, when the census counted 210,000 residents. If treated as a city, the area around Alliance Airport would be the fifth-fastest-growing in the nation, according to a 2013 report from the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

Overall, Fort Worth has grown from 534,694 residents in 2000 to 781,100 this year, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

“We are one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, and in order to keep up with the level of services our citizens deserve, the department has to grow commensurate with the growth of the population,” Van Houten said.

For the first six months of 2014 in Fort Worth, crimes against people were down 1.7 percent from the first six months of 2013 and crimes against property were down 7.2 percent, according to police reports.

A five-year plan

To address staffing needs, Halstead and his staff have been working on a five-year plan that will be released in January. It will look at adding three academy classes of new recruits starting in fiscal 2016. Each class should graduate about 35 officers.

The focus in 2016 would be staffing the sixth division in the far north. In fiscal 2017, the city would begin adding detectives to reduce case volume, and in fiscal 2018, it would increase staffing in specialty units.

In fiscal 2019, the city would re-examine call times, staffing needs and crime trends for future needs.

The city is also making headway on the planned police division in the far north, Councilman Dennis Shingleton said.

“I think it is positive that we have taken into account this new sixth division. We are a couple weeks out from making some significant press releases on that division, both for location, starting dates and things like that,” Shingleton said.

The report presented Tuesday also recommends eliminating the gang crime unit, an idea opposed by the council and Halstead.

Suggestions supported by Halstead included adding an analyst to study traffic crash data and recommend ways to make the roads safer, as well as recruiting a more diverse Police Department.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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