A little girl in a pink shirt ran up to a Fort Worth police officer Tuesday night with a grin and her arms outstretched.
“Hola,” she said, giggling.
Officer Daniel Segura, a former neighborhood police officer for the predominantly Spanish-speaking community near Englewood Park, reached out his hand with a reciprocating grin and a greeting before the girl skipped off.
“That wouldn’t have happened a few years ago,” Segura said, referring to just eight years ago, when the area had a high crime rate, including prostitution and drugs, and little involvement with police.
In fact, he said, some community members wandered over to the first National Night Out in Englewood Park because they thought the police might be gathered there for a crime scene.
On Tuesday night, however, the event meant to promote police-community partnerships and awareness of crime prevention drew over 400 people to the small community park, along with pony rides, food trucks, bands and bounce houses.
“The community took over this park, and now this is what we do,” Segura said.
The crime rate in the area has plummeted as residents started to volunteer with Citizens on Patrol and the Police Department dedicated Spanish-speaking neighborhood officers to the area.
“We learned the things they needed, and they learned to work with us, how to report crime and how to communicate with us,” Segura said of the residents.
National Night Out, an annual event that included about 100 parties across Fort Worth on Tuesday, comes as the Police Department is working to repair relationships with the community. An outside investigation into grievances filed by three black officers noted instances of hostile and harassing behavior that went unstopped by superiors.
Police Chief Jeff Halstead has since released a 3-E Action Plan — Equality, Equity for Everyone — to address officers’ and the community’s concerns, and he said it’s starting to take off.
“The burden will be upon me in setting the goals and the tone of the administration to make sure that we aren’t just so busy with crime trends,” Halstead said. “We have got to look at these community relationships and the strategic partnerships to make things better in our department and in our city.”
Actions targeted at improving community relations include:
National Night Out, neighborhood officers and the Ministers Against Crime program are some of the ways that police get involved with residents, Halstead said. And National Night Out and school resource officers show kids that officers are there to help.
“You can take any one of the children here, and in every one of their lives, they are going to have a situation that is dangerous: They are about to be the victim of a crime or they will witness a criminal incident,” Halstead said.
“They need to have that positive relationship and an understanding of what our job is really about. Otherwise, they won’t come and give us information to help them.”
Halstead, who mingled with the crowd at Englewood Park before leaving for other parties, said police use National Night Out not only to build partnerships but also to recruit for the police academy and for Citizens on Patrol.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984