Around the country, after highly publicized incidents involving police shootings of unarmed black men, there has been an ongoing national discussion about the breakdown in communication between law enforcement and the minority community.
Despite calls for peace and civility and numerous nonviolent protests during this time of high tension, there have been a disturbing number of riots and unruly demonstrations that have added to the strained relations between cops and community.
And there was the ambush of two New York police officers by a deranged man who wanted to avenge the killing of two people by law enforcement.
While Fort Worth has seen a few peaceful protests in support of the national movement against police brutality, police here have been vexed by more internal racial discord than conflict between the department and the general minority population.
That fact was put into greater focus by outgoing Police Chief Jeff Halstead in a personal, introspective farewell article written for the first 2015 edition of Signal 50, the quarterly newsletter published for members of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.
Halstead, who announced his resignation in November, effective Jan. 9, after six years on the job, in recent months has come under criticism from both the Fort Worth Black Police Law Enforcement Officers Association and the local chapter of the Latino Police Officers Association, who accused the chief of having harmed the careers of minority officers.
The head of the black officers’ group called for Halstead to be fired after an outside investigation of grievances filed by three disciplined officers in the traffic division found that there had been hostile behavior in the department that was allowed to go on too long.
Part of the problem, from the chief’s point of view, stems from the city’s adoption (through a referendum) of “meet and confer,” which allows police to negotiate employment issues. The one group designated to represent officers in discussions with the chief and city manager is the predominantly white FWPOA, causing some blacks and Hispanics to feel they were cut off from the chief.
There has been some movement to mend the fissure in the department, with the chief personally apologizing for the treatment of some black officers and with the FWPOA recently adding a member from each minority association to its board of directors.
Still, the tension is high, a point the chief laments in his Signal 50 message.
“There are times when it appears some relationships ‘within’ the department appear fractured and hurting our police family,” Halstead wrote. “This is the first relationship that has to be healed immediately.”
He added, “The past is simply the past and we have to let that go. Some comments about me or others in the PD, shown to me from others within our department, are downright despicable and have no place in this profession. Either move forward with us or move on.”
The chief spoke of a particularly “challenging time” that only his wife knows about, but he said that would remain in his mind “where it belongs, and not in my heart. How we can hurt one another in this honorable profession is beyond me.”
As he steps down from a 26-year law enforcement career to begin a new professional era of police consulting work, he reminded his officers that “this will be one of the most challenging decades of policing we have witnessed.”
He implored them “to train more effectively so we can police in a manner expected by all citizens, all cultures, and within every community.”
The chief has had successes in working with communities after some controversial incidents, including a raid on a gay nightclub and the Taser death of a mentally challenged young man. And he put in place a Community Advisory Board to help the department confront issues before they devolve into turmoil.
His taking the lead to equip all Fort Worth officers with body cameras — to help protect both the community and officers’ careers — is definitely a positive, as is the fact that crime has gone down six years in a row while he has been here.
But he’ll leave a divided department behind, for whatever reason.
That is something that Fort Worth doesn’t deserve, and it must be one of the first things addressed when a new chief is chosen.