Editorials

Fort Worth police, elected officials must display more urgency on race

Race and Culture Task Force makes final recommendations to City Council

On Tuesday, members of the Fort Worth Race and Culture Task Force presented its recommendations for racial equity to the city council. Presiding co-chair Rosa Navejar said she was pleased to see the council's receptiveness of the group's suggestions.
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On Tuesday, members of the Fort Worth Race and Culture Task Force presented its recommendations for racial equity to the city council. Presiding co-chair Rosa Navejar said she was pleased to see the council's receptiveness of the group's suggestions.

There’s a ton of building going on in and around Fort Worth.

There needs to be a good bit of rebuilding as well. Especially at the police department.

As Mayor Betsy Price told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board Monday, Chief Joel Fitzgerald needs to reconnect with his troops, after a high-profile fumbled flirtation with a job in Baltimore. And, truth be known, the department is still struggling to rebuild its image after two controversial arrests of black women caught on video in 2016 and ‘17.

The community responded to the viral 2016 arrest of Jacquelyn Craig and her two daughters with a Race and Culture Task Force. The group’s recommendations, a year-and-a-half in the making, are in the process of being methodically implemented at City Hall.

But it has to be a psychological setback that a National League of Cities study commissioned by Fort Worth has come back with allegations of disproportionate arrests of blacks and Hispanics, fines and fees assessed on blacks, use of force by white officers, and searches of blacks and Hispanics.

City officials say the NLC study provides an incomplete and perhaps flawed picture. For one thing, if an officer uses force on the same person twice, the NLC study counts that as two incidents; Fort Worth, and the National Incident-Based Reporting System, record it as one.

Yet, you don’t have to take the NLC study as gospel to take it seriously.

City Manager David Cook’s office is working diligently to implement the Race and Culture Task Force recommendations — including hiring a Chief Diversity Officer and a police ombudsman, as well as impaneling a Citizen Review Board to monitor police encounters. We believe it’s a sincere effort to help. And we understand such things take time. But this sure needs to be done yesterday, if not decades ago.

It would certainly be nice to see a greater sense of urgency in the police department as well. For the front-page story on the National League of Cities study Sunday, for instance, there was no statement forthcoming from the Fort Worth Police Department. Really? With Chief Fitzgerald legitimately indisposed, there’s no one else at the department either authorized or engaged enough to comment on a report that alleges endemic bias there? No need for explanation, much less a defense of the department, was either anticipated or considered vital?

That’s wholly unacceptable in every possible way. Can a police department in damage control mode since 2016 truly not understand the need for a SWAT-team approach to public relations? Can they not see that yet another dent in the department’s image is every bit the emergency that they respond to every day on the streets?

The mayor and council need to put their collective foot down and demand a bigger, more favorable police presence in the public consciousness.

We, as does the vast bulk of this community, support our men and women in blue wholeheartedly — when they warrant it, which is likely in excess of 99 percent of the time. But the department’s leaders, as well as our elected and appointed officials at City Hall, must do a better job of standing up for police when justified, and standing up to them when not.

People of color in Fort Worth, and all those of good conscience, are increasingly demanding it.

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