Fort Worth’s new police chief Neil Noakes has been on the job just under two weeks.
“I’m loving it. The position is very challenging, don’t get me wrong. The hours are very long but it’s been a joy,” said Noakes.
Noakes said he feels fortunate to still have former Chief Ed Kraus as a mentor. Now, he steps in as the department’s new leader during contentious times nationwide. He said maintaining good relationships and rebuilding the ones that are broken down will be one of his top priorities. He said that starts with community policing.
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“This is not a bad time in policing, it’s a difficult time in policing,” he said. “There’s good ways to get the job done, and there’s ways to get the job done that maybe aren’t as effective, maybe where we’re actually alienating ourselves from the very communities we’re trying to reach.”
Noakes, who joined the force in 2000, is aware of the recent dark spot on the department - the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson and the upcoming August trial of former officer Aaron Dean. He’s also mindful of an erosion of trust in many Black and Latino neighborhoods.
“What’s hard sometimes is when we go into the communities that tell us we’re doing it wrong,” said Noakes. “They’re going to tell us they don’t trust us. But it is absolutely critical that’s where we spend time.”
We also asked Chief Noakes about his stance on ICE's 287(g) program which creates partnerships with state and local law enforcement to identify and remove undocumented immigrants.
"What worries me is we may have people out there who are worried about their immigration status who are victims of crime but they don’t call us," he said. "We’re here to serve you just like we’re here to serve anyone else."
Recruiting and crime will also take priority. Last year, Fort Worth reached triple-digit homicide numbers for the first time in decades. Noakes said the department will explore working with local, state and county regional partners to reduce violent crime. He said public safety is one of the most fundamental jobs they have as law enforcement officers.
Noakes said he’s spoken to other new chiefs in the region to glean information and offer support. And yes, he realizes there’s a slight resemblance to one particular chief.
“I’ve had more people come congratulate me as Chief Garcia than they’ve said Chief Noakes,” he quipped.
Overall, violent crime, community relationships and officer morale will be his top three focal points. Noakes said many would say he’s taking on this role during a time of crisis.
“And really in a way, we are,” he said. “But the thing is don’t waste the crisis. Take the momentum that’s been created by this crisis and create the change we all want to see.”