A panel of national experts is moving full steam ahead in its review of the policies and practices of the Fort Worth Police Department.
In an exclusive interview, NBC 5 learned that the panel may be just weeks away from a delivering a preliminary report that could bring major findings and swift changes.
The panel of eight is charged with a top to bottom review of the 1,600-member police force.
“When you bring in experts of the folks that are on our team, you'd better expect to have a full review with a lot of sincerity and honesty,” said Alex del Carmen, Ph.D, one of the panel’s co-leaders and a recognized authority on race and crime with particular emphasis on racial profiling in law enforcement.
Del Carmen is a professor and Associate Dean of the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies at Tarleton State University. His co-leader is former Arlington police chief Theron Bowman. Bowman is now a police practices expert and President/CEO of The Bowman Group.
The two are joined by six others who bring local, state and federal experience in policing practices as well as years of work on civil right issues.
“We made a request, a pretty in depth request to the City of Fort Worth Police Department for not hundreds but thousands of data bits,” del Carmen said. “So we've requested policies all the way from use of force to racial profiling to motor vehicle stops. We're also looking to the training component. We're looking at what they're training policies look like, what type of training is being done. We are assessing the training as well.”
The latest news from around North Texas.
Del Carmen says the department is cooperating with the request for data, documents, body camera video and interviews and says “they’ve been very open to the idea of looking into the department.”
The criminologist says this is “long process” and the work will not “be a Band-Aid approach.”
While it’s too early to reach or reveal any conclusions, del Carmen says, “What I can tell you is we're gonna have major findings related to the work we are doing. We understand that our work is incredibly important. And we also understand that our loyalty is to the community. And that we are the eyes and ears of that community through the work that we do. We also understand that there were people who were killed last year at the hands of police officers that raise our level of work and expectation to a level unprecedented.”
The October 2019 death of Atatiana Jefferson, 28, prompted the scrutiny. Jefferson was in her home, babysitting and playing video games with her nephew, when a now former police officer shot and killed her. He resigned before he could be terminated, was arrested and will stand trial for murder.
The death of the woman who had plans for medical school shook the community to its core, prompted protests and emotional calls for change to City Hall.
“City council members, your city is smoldering, smoldering, smoldering," said Jefferson’s neighbor James Smith said as he stood before elected leaders. "I'm sure you smell the smoke. We're here again to ask you what you are going to do about it.”
Smith had called police on a non-emergency number the night Jefferson was killed to report an open door at the house. Days after the shooting, he told council members, “I haven’t slept. I’ve barely eaten. But I’m determined to be a voice for Atatiana Jefferson.”
Weeks later, the city manager recommended and the council approved the independent review; a panel that had been discussed earlier by the city’s Race and Culture Task Force.
“If there's things we need to learn, things we need to differently -- we're going to put those in place," city manager David Cooke told NBC 5 before he hired the panel members.
“In my view, through the work we are doing, I believe that the Fort Worth Police Department is gonna be a better police department if they, in fact, adopt those recommendations that we will be making at some point,” del Carmen said.
The project is divided into two phases. Phase 1 will identify patterns and practices related to police interactions with the public during investigate stops, searches and arrests, and use of force incidents.
“Phase 1 was designed to be sort of the basic, preliminary, what we felt was the urgent call, which included as you can imagine, use of force. Everyone is concerned about about it based on the shootings that took place last year and in previous years as well, and we felt that was an absolute must, that we focus on that,” del Carmen said.
Del Carmen expects the team will deliver a preliminary report in April and a final report in the fall. He says “the deep dives” of Phase 1 will lead to Phase 2.
“We also realize some of our work is time sensitive, that if we find something imminent that they have to be changed and they have to be addressed, we don't want to wait until the report is drafted and compromise the safety or the lives of individuals in the community,” del Carmen said.
The panel now has a website where it will update progress when possible and will also allow he community to contact the police reform experts .
Del Carmen says the group of eight represents those in society “that don’t have a voice, that don’t have a platform” as well as those “who get up in the mornings and actually go out and risk their lives for the rest of us to be safe.”
“And so the key to this is to give society what it deserves to have and to give good police officers an environment where they can actually excel.”
In his 21 years of work, del Carmen has trained thousands of police officers including Texas police chiefs. He has written articles and books about racial profiling. The team he and former chief Bowman leads is fueled by a passion to get this right.
“We don't take our job lightly,” del Carmen said. “And we also understand the magnitude of responsibility that we carry on our shoulders. Our job is to insure that the Constitution of the United States is respected between the exchange of an offer and a citizen, and to insure the good officers in the Fort Worth Police Department are also continuing to do a good job, that they’re receiving support from the administration that they should in the form of training, equipment and various other components.”