All Fort Worth police will soon have automatically activated bodycams and dashcams that can't be turned off by officers at a crime scene, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald told members of the city's Race and Culture Task Force on Monday.
About 400 officers already are using the new body camera and 100 vehicles are outfitted with the new dash camera systems, but eventually all officers will be using the new systems, according to police. The department's older cameras could be deactivated by officers if they wished.
The department also plans to test a new firearms sensor system that will tell dispatch personnel and turn on the officer's body camera when his or her weapon has been unholstered. Also, new batteries are being purchased for Tasers that will activate body cameras and in-car video cameras the Taser is deployed, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald also told the task force about department-wide "de-escalation" training designed to address safe but effective use of force. Instructors from the the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) have been conducting the training for more than 1,600 sworn staff, which is mandatory for academy cadets training to be officers.
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New mental health team
The training is taking place in tandem with deployment of a newly trained mental health team.
The new unit will consist of a sergeant, two detectives and six specially trained officers who can be called out anytime day or night, said Sgt. Marc Povero, team leader, in an interview. The unit includes two law enforcement trained professionals from MHMR Tarrant (formerly Tarrant County Mental Health Mental Retardation Services) who will accompany police during follow-up visits to mental illness sufferers, Povero said.
“We want to provide better service to mental health consumers by following up with them after they have an initial police interaction,” Povero said. “Also, we want to reduce the amount of calls that patrol has to answer dealing with mental health consumers. We want to divert them from law enforcement to healthcare and mental health providers.”
Mental health units have been successful in Bedford and Hurst police departments.
A PERF report released in March last year indicates that police are ready to reassess their approach to use-of-force situation. Controversial cases nationwide, many of them captured on video, since the summer of 2014 have sparked protests and soul-searching among police executives, while also threatening community-police relationships and eroding trust, the report said.
Each training program is designed to resolve situations peacefully when weapons are not involved.
Relationships with minority communities
Fitzgerald also told the task force that the Police Department is making progress working through issues with minority officers and the city's minority communities.
Relationships with the Hispanic and black police officer associations have improved, he said, but Fitzgerald acknowledged that there are units in the department, such as homicide and SWAT, with no black officers.
He also admitted that his relationship with the Fort Worth Police Officers' Association, the city's largest, "has been rocky." But, he added, "I will press forward with the help of the association or not."
Bob Ray Sanders, chairman of the Race and Culture Task Force, said the topics addressed Monday go to the heart of why the task force was formed.
Some in attendance said they would wait to see how the advances touted by Fitzgerald actually performed on the street.
Rev. Kyev Tatum, a Tarrant County community activist, said the community has not seen any progress because nothing has been put in place.
"In my neck of the woods this task force is considered to be a joke," said Michael Bell, pastor of Greater St. Stephen First Church. "No one believes that anything meaningful will come from this."
Assistant City Manager Valerie Washington disputed that, saying some changes in Police Department policy have not been communicated well.
"I do think there is still more room to go," she said during the meeting. "If we're honest and we are willing to work through the past conflicts, we can all move forward. I hope we are all at a place where we are willing to move forward."