Forest Hill police bungled kidnapping case, but chief deserves credit for his candor

Fort Worth residents celebrate safe return of 8-year-old kidnapped

Fort Worth residents celebrated the return of an 8-year-old who was kidnapped Saturday, May 18, 2019.
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Fort Worth residents celebrated the return of an 8-year-old who was kidnapped Saturday, May 18, 2019.

Far too often, we must lament a lack of transparency on the part of public officials, particularly in law enforcement matters and especially when things go wrong or personnel decisions are involved.

So we were pleased to see Forest Hill police Chief Dan Dennis explain the precise circumstances that led to the firing of a sergeant related to the search for a kidnapped Fort Worth girl last month.

Dennis explained that the officer, Richardson Wolfe, wrongly discounted the tip that led to the girl’s recovery. Two citizens reported seeing a car likely belonging to the suspect at the very hotel where Wolfe and another officer had already searched. Wolfe, apparently, disputed whether it was the right vehicle.

Thankfully, 911 operators sent Fort Worth officers the tip as well, and they soon recovered the 8-year-old. If not for that, an end too horrifying to contemplate might have been the result.

Dennis could have easily said little. He could have let the public assume that Wolfe was dismissed because he didn’t see the girl when he initially searched the suspect’s room.

Instead, in a detailed interview with Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Deanna Boyd, he explained the limitations of that search, and he defended Wolfe’s initial actions as reasonable. And he reflected on what his department could have done better and why Wolfe’s second error merited firing.

The chief’s actions are just what the public needs in this era of distrust, and even rancor, between police and some communities. His detail about officers’ talking their way into the room for the initial search, and his candor about whether they stretched the boundaries of legality help show what the officers faced in the heat of the moment.

Forest Hill erred badly in this case. Most reasonable people understand that police must make tough choices, sometimes amid harrowing dangers, and they’re willing to grant officers leeway in doing a job many wouldn’t want to do. But they need to see that officers and their leaders are willing to learn from mistakes rather than circle the wagons.

More public officials — especially in law enforcement — could learn from Dennis’ example of showing leadership and being accountable to their bosses.

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