Meet the Interim Fort Worth Chief of Police
Fort Worth may go several months without a permanent police chief as leaders voice confidence in Ed Kraus, the interim top cop.
The city is not likely to open the gig to applicants until October, regardless of a district court judge’s ruling blocking the city from hiring a chief for at least two weeks. The ruling is part of a legal battle between the city and former police chief Joel Fitzgerald, who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city after his termination. Fitzgerald’s attorney has requested he be reinstated immediately.
While not speaking specifically about the lawsuit, assistant city manager Jay Chapa, who oversees the police department, said his hope was to “let things settle down a little bit in the department” before making a long term decision about the position.
“Chief Kraus is a good, strong pick potentially,” Chapa said. “We want to leave him in place for a little while.”
Fitzgerald was fired in May shortly after a confrontation in Washington, D.C. with the state police union’s president during at a National Police Week gathering. The confrontation was among several reasons listed in a termination letter, including an inability to build relationships with other senior staff, improperly handling an IT audit and a “failure to consider how your action impacts the broader organization.”
He had attempted to leave Fort Worth last winter, applying for the police commissioner role in Baltimore. He pulled out of the running in January. The decision came days after the NAACP Legal Defense Fund called for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to withdraw her nomination of Fitzgerald. Pugh resigned in May amid controversy surrounding profits from her children’s book.
Kraus, a 27-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department, said in an interview with the Star-Telegram earlier this month that he would strongly consider “putting my name in the hat.”
“The thing I like most about are the people,” Kraus said, saying some of the “greatest people” he’s met have been through his career.
The city has five other senior staff positions open, including two newly recreated roles.
The Transportation and Public Works Department needs a permanent director, the public events director left earlier this year and assistant city manager Susan Alanis has departed for Tarrant County College. As part of the Race and Culture Task Force recommendations, this city will also hire a civilian police monitor and chief equity officer.
Many, if not all, of these posts are likely to be filled before the city considers a new chief, Chapa said, particularly the police monitor role. It has been City Manager David Cooke’s practice to open a nationwide search for department heads.
Chapa said the administration thought that opening the job immediately would ultimately be more disruptive, noting the potential for a rapid shift between three leaders.
“We also want to make sure we provide a good process for the candidates so it’s not rushed,” Chapa said.
Rank and file officers are looking for consistency in the department, said police union president Manny Ramirez. Morale has “vastly improved” under Kraus, he said, but officers want a permanent chief quickly.
“We’d like to have things settled so we’re all on the same page, and we can rally around the right guy,” he said, adding that the union didn’t believe a nationwide search was necessary. “We think that could be a waste of taxpayers’ resources when we have multiple qualified candidates right here.”
The city’s next chief should have a deep understanding of Fort Worth, said Bob Ray Sanders, who co-chaired the Race and Culture Task Force.
Sanders said it was clear a significant divide has formed between some communities, particularity minority neighborhoods, and the police department. An outsider may take two to three years to get up to speed, he speculated.
“My own feeling, frankly, is the chief we have now would be a good chief,” he said of Kraus. “M concern is if we go outside to get someone we’re basically starting all over.”
There is skepticism of Kraus.
Waymond Brown Sr., who ran for an east Fort Worth council seat, has made several appearances before the council this summer to voice criticism of the police department. Brown contends the department has a history of not following procedures for use of force.
Like Sanders, Brown said the next police chief should understand Fort Worth, but he said he wasn’t convinced Kraus did, calling him “more of the same.” He was critical of both Kraus and Fitzgerald for not spending more time in the community.
“This is a great time to step up and show the city we’re not going to run the same status quo we’ve been running,” he said.
Kraus said he understood criticism about not being seen in the community, adding that he thought it was an unfair of assessment of Fitzgerald as well. He said he was frustrated with not being able to get out on patrol or to more community events.
“People will be critical no matter how much you’re out there,” he said. “I’m hoping that will slow down. I’m never in the community as much as I want to.”