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Fort Worth to launch national search for chief

Officials will conduct a national search to replace Police Chief Jeff Halstead, who announced his plans to retire Tuesday.

“The intention is to do a national search and open that up,” City Manager David Cooke said after Halstead announced he will step down, effective Jan. 9, during Tuesday’s pre-council meeting. “The other part is we will make it very inclusive and include the community throughout that process.”

Assistant Chief Rhonda Robertson is expected to be named interim chief, sources told the Star-Telegram.

Halstead turned in his letter of resignation on Nov. 4, writing that he has “accomplished every goal I set more than six year ago.”

Halstead, 51, came to Fort Worth in 2008 from the Phoenix Police Department, where he worked 20 years, rising to the rank of commander.

Halstead said he now plans to devote time to his consulting business.

Cooke said he expected the search to take four to six months.

Mayor Betsy Price said Halstead’s retirement would push back the police department’s five-year strategic plan, which was scheduled to come out in January and address staffing issues and the need for a north patrol division.

A recent report by a non-profit group said Fort Worth needs to add more than 200 officers and civilian staff for the fast-growing city, which has grown from 534,684 in 2000 to 781,100 this year.

“I think it is only appropriate that we hit the pause button on that and allow the new chief, whoever that is, to take on the strategic plan when they get here,” Price said.

A ‘celebration day’

Halstead’s announcement comes three months after an outside investigation by Coleman & Associates into complaints filed by three black officers against the police department found no hard evidence of racial discrimination, but noted instances of hostile and harassing behavior.

While the head of the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Association called for Halstead to be fired, the City Council and Cooke gave the chief a vote of confidence.

Halstead refuted suggestions that his retirement was based on conflicts with Price or the City Council, calling Tuesday a “celebration day.”

“I know a lot of people talked about — the chief is resigning, the chief is being forced out. And I saw a whole barrage of media stories. Mayor, they even had me and you going at it,” Halstead told Price during the pre-council meeting. “I do want to clear one thing for the record. Betsy and Tom Price, I think, were the only elected officials we had in our home for dinner within your first month of being elected Mayor.”

“To this day we still have a bitter feud. She is an avid road biker and I’m a mountain biker and we are just not going to see eye to eye on that issue,” he said to laughs from the crowd.

In response to the Coleman report, Halstead created the 3-E Action Plan — Equality, Equity for Everyone — which incorporates recommendations from the report and concerns previously raised by residents, employees and four ministers with whom Halstead had been meeting since Nov. 1.

Price said progress on the 3-E Action Plan would move forward, despite Halstead’s resignation.

“That is a plan we had already started to move forward with and we continue to move it forward,” Price said. “It is an outgrowth of the Coleman report and we don’t want to delay on that.”

Leaving a legacy

Halstead’s first year on the job was ripe with conflict.

In April 2009, Michael Jacobs, 18, died shortly after being shocked twice with a Taser by officer Stephanie Phillips. Halstead said Phillips violated police department protocol by deploying her Taser for longer than the five second round — the first trigger pull lasted 49 seconds.

In response, Halstead successfully lobbied Taser International to add a safety feature that automatically cuts offs the charge five seconds after being deployed.

Following the Taser incident came the controversial bar check at the Rainbow Lounge, a gay bar, that resulted in injuries to two bar patrons, a handful of arrests and accusations of police brutality.

“I had absolutely no idea that that first year would have been that challenging,” Halstead said.

Despite the negative fallout from the Rainbow Lounge incident, which made national headlines, David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, Inc., said the first emotion he felt when he heard Halstead’s announcement was loss.

“What was important was how fast he transformed and learned how to work with a community that had been disenfranchised,” Henderson said.

Halstead created a liaison to the gay community and implemented diversity and multicultural training for recruits and employees.

“We had developed such a terrific relationship and you come to rely on the relationships that mean so much to you,” Henderson said of Halstead. “My first question was — Oh gosh, what’s next? Now we have a void to fill. But the more thought about it, the more I realized that Chief Halstead created standards and set protocols in place that are going to carry on long after he is gone.”

Halstead also had to deal with a spate of DWI arrests of police officers, which led to the creation of an alcohol awareness program.

The crime rate has dropped during Halstead’s time here, and he credits much of that success to the Crime Control and Prevention District’s half-cent sales tax, which has been used to buy patrol cars, fund the Citizens on Patrol volunteers and build the new training facility.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the re-authorization of the “crime tax” in May.

‘Get input from everybody’

Roy Hudson, president of the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Association, said his organization wishes “Chief Halstead the very best in his future endeavors.”

Hudson had called for Halstead to be fired after the Coleman report was released, saying he had “irreparably harmed the careers of many minority officers.”

Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said he was “caught of guard” by Halstead’s retirement, but said Halstead is leaving the department better than it was six years ago.

“It will be a new chapter in his life and I believe the department will move forward. We will find the best candidate for the job and we as an organization will move forward in a positive direction,” Van Houten said.

Van Houten urged the city to do an inclusive, national search that will take input from citizens, business leaders and employee groups.

“Get input from everybody. The chief of police doesn’t just serve the organization. The chief of police serves the community as a whole in all its many different facets,” he said.

Price said the city has big shoes to fill in finding a replacement.

“As chief you have been no stranger to adversity, just like any chief in a major city,” Price told Halstead. “Fort Worth is the 17th largest city in the nation, and chiefs face big adversity on major decisions and nobody has handled it any better than you.”

Halstead paid special tribute to those close to him.

“Standing here on this day, I give all my thanks to my faith, my family and I have to say to the employees of this organization. They are a class act and I stand here with pride because of what they accomplish,” said Halstead, who teared up as he thanked his wife, Kim.

“She saw me in the darkest moments of this position and prayed daily.”

Staff writer Deanna Boyd contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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