Editorials

Fort Worth police must answer questions about officer shootings — quickly

Hundreds take to streets after fatal shooting of suspect by Fort Worth police

Hundreds of protesters gathered on East Berry Street after a man was killed in a shooting by Fort Worth police on Sunday, June 9, 2019. According to police a 20-year-old man suspected of aggravated assault was killed.
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Hundreds of protesters gathered on East Berry Street after a man was killed in a shooting by Fort Worth police on Sunday, June 9, 2019. According to police a 20-year-old man suspected of aggravated assault was killed.

Four times in little more than a week, Fort Worth police officers have drawn their weapons and fired on suspects.

It may be that all of the shootings were justified, including Sunday night’s killing of the suspect in an aggravated assault. But with years of tension between police and the city, particularly among black residents, the department needs to answer questions and release videos and other information — as quickly as possible.

We understand and are sensitive to the need to protect an ongoing investigation. Police must follow an orderly process, interview officers and witnesses and allow the district attorney’s office to review the case.

But both the community and the hundreds of police officers not involved in these incidents would benefit greatly from a full, fast airing of what happened Sunday. Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus should do everything in his power to speed things along, particularly the public release of available body — and dashboard — camera videos.

On June 1, SWAT officers shot and killed an Army veteran who appeared to point a weapon at them. It turned out to be a flashlight, and the ex-soldier had been struggling with depression, according to his family.

Two incidents followed four days later, as officers shot and wounded a burglary suspect and fired at (but missed) a murder suspect who, police said, was pretending to brandish a gun.

Then, Sunday afternoon, after a chase on East Berry Street, police fired on the 20-year-old assault suspect, who they said was “noncompliant” and had a gun as officers tried to arrest him. The suspect is now dead, and residents who gathered in protest said that he was black; police haven’t yet identified him.

Of course, it’s too soon to know that. But we have many unanswered questions — what exactly does “noncompliant” mean? What specifically did the man do to resist? Did he pull or fire his weapon? Was there any alternative way to subdue him? How many officers fired, and how many times?

If these questions linger too long, it’s bad not just for residents, but for all the officers not involved in these incidents. Distrust among citizens, particularly minorities sensitive to past police abuse, creates the risk of confrontation where none might otherwise exist.

For Kraus, in just his fourth week as chief after the firing of predecessor Joel Fitzgerald, this difficult stretch is an important test. Already, he’s met several times with community leaders and residents. If he wants the permanent job, he must demonstrate that he can forcefully address the strain between his department and so many of the city’s residents.

Kraus is a veteran officer and leader who understands the need for officers to connect with the community. We urge him to be out front in meeting with residents, answering every question that he can and speeding the release of information. He already plans to meet later this week with leaders in the area of Sunday’s shooting, a good, quick step.

Ever since the forceful 2016 arrest of Jacqueline Craig after she called police for help was caught on video, questions of police-citizen interactions have roiled Fort Worth. The city has stepped up with a thoughtful process to examine the situation through the Task Force on Race and Culture, and leaders have responded to calls for more citizen oversight.

Failure to be transparent now would risk tainting that important work. The Police Department must take steps fast to be responsive to the community’s concerns.

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