For weeks last month, Fort Worth was among other cities across the country which saw night after night of protests calling for police reform following the death of George Floyd.
Though the nightly protests have ended, the conversations surrounding reform have not. This week in Fort Worth, city leaders including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus met with the members of the group which led the protests in the city.
Donnell Ballard is president of the group United My Justice.
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“If we are yelling at each other, then we can’t get anywhere so the meeting, to me, was great,” Ballard said. “Do we got a lot of work again? Oh, yes. We got a lot ahead. Is it an overnight fix? No, but are we getting somewhere? Maybe, but we’re going to continue to talk.”
One of the issues Ballard said he brought up was surrounding training and how officers interact with the public while responding to calls related to mental health crises.
“A person like me or you or other people, when they tell us to put our hands up…that’s different. We understand because we comprehend,” he said. “But when you got other people out there who don’t acknowledge that, don’t even understand what you’re saying, those are the people that I’m concerned about.”
Kim Neal, who recently joined the city of Fort Worth as the first-ever police oversight monitor, was also part of the meeting. Neal said some of the concerns raised by the group would not necessarily be able to be addressed by the city because of legal implications, but she said some issues are already being addressed.
“I think they learned that we were a lot further along than they thought we were,” she said.
Plans for more community engagement are currently in the works, Neal told NBC 5 on Friday.
“Those would be actual conversations where we would have roundtables and if it’s virtual, it would be actual breakout rooms,” she said. “Police officers and citizens at the table talking and engaging about problem-solving and crime prevention in their neighborhood.”
Ballard said while issues will require more than an overnight fix, he felt meetings like the one this week could be the right step.
“If we continue to yell at each other and continue to not sit at the table, we’ll be here seven to 10 years later talking about the same thing because we did not come together,” he said.
In response to this week’s meeting, Chief Kraus released this statement to NBC 5:
“The discussions regarding reforms were productive and mainly centered around the need for more/better communication between officers and the community members they serve, better response to calls involving mental health crises, improved mental health services for first responders, officer accountability, and a system to ensure thorough background screenings of applicants from other departments.
We recognize there is room for improvement in many of these categories. The FWPD has processes in place to address many of these issues, and are working on others. We appreciate that United My Justice is committed to working with the City/Police Department to help us better serve our community.
Due to the dialogue, we ran out of time before next steps could be outlined. My understanding is that United My Justice was going to submit a few specific ideas to the City that we could respond to prior to our next meeting.”