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Fort Worth Police Chief Testifies in Police Association Grievance Hearing

Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald and an embattled member of his command staff testified in a hearing Friday about a grievance the Police Officers Association (POA) filed against them.

The POA is accusing the chief and two of his top commanders of allowing certain officers to transfer into the department without meeting all the required qualifications, including having an "intermediate certification."

The POA says that violates the police contract.

"When you negotiate and you set out certain standards, you're doing that because you hold high expectations for the men and women of the Fort Worth Police Department and the standards that you are seeking to find," said Terry Daffron, the attorney representing the POA. "When you disregard those standards, or you bend them, then you start on that slippery slope."

The POA calls this a matter of fairness. Officers who transfer in are paid more and given higher seniority than those who graduate from the basic academy.

But Fitzgerald told NBC 5 there are other ways to evaluate officers when they come in with years of experience from other departments.

Assistant Police Chief Abdul Pridgen testified that this was simply a matter of interpretation.

"It's the chief's prerogative to interpret the contract the way he interprets it. He's the chief," Pridgen said.

The POA disagrees. The group believes the chief and two of his commanders broke the rules by allowing these officers on the force.

One sergeant testified that these were not isolated events.

"There were multiple times where things would come up, and I just was not comfortable doing them at all," said Fort Worth Police Sgt. Sandra Rhoden.

Friday's hearing was focused on gathering evidence, trying to get the city to hand over certain documents and emails. Once that's settled, there will be a second hearing going into more detail of the allegations.

This is not the only controversy Fitzgerald is facing right now. NBC 5 spoke with him about the internal leak investigation, stemming from the viral video arrest of a mother and her daughters.

The chief says he wants to release more information and will as soon as he can, but like any case, this has to go through due process.

Pridgen, who testified in Friday's hearing, is one of two high-ranking commanders temporarily off the job while they're being questioned about the leak. They're the same two commanders accused, alongside the chief, of breaking the rules with transfer officers.

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