Fort Worth

Fort Worth Police Department Has Good Policies But Lacks Accountability: Report

A panel of criminal justice experts was created after Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed by a Fort Worth police officer in 2019

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The Fort Worth police department has solid policies but officers are typically not held accountable for not following the rules, according to a report released Tuesday.

The review noted the department is modern and professional in many ways but also found serious shortcomings.

"The actual experience of some members of the community, especially people of color and those in low-income neighborhoods, is very different," the report said. "Daily encounters are far too often characterized by a 'command and control' approach to policing that leads to avoidable uses of force."

A panel of criminal justice experts was created in late 2019 after Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her home by ex-Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean. The group’s work was intended to build upon the work of the city’s Task Force on Race and Culture.

After a series of delays, Dean's trial is currently scheduled to begin after Thanksgiving.

In the years since Atatiana Jefferson was killed by a Fort Worth police officer, an independent panel took an in-depth look at the police department and what needs to change.

Alex del Carmen, director of Tarleton State University’s Institute of Predictive Analytics in Criminal Justice, served as co-chair of the panel. Carmen said it is his hope the findings will ensure the police department will learn and grow.

“We’re not going to sugar coat it,” del Carmen said. “We believe the community deserves the truth. We believe the police department deserves the truth. We believe you as the leaders deserve the truth as well.”

The panel’s final report was presented Tuesday to Fort Worth city council members. Several areas were examined including crisis intervention, the use of force, and escalation. According to the report, experts found “significant incidents” of officers failing to de-escalate and at times, using unauthorized force.

Panel co-chair Theron Bowman, former Arlington police chief, said one of the recommendations was to adopt what’s known as the “LEED” model. The model encourages officers to “listen and explain with dignity and equity”, according to Bowman.

He used a traffic stop as an example.

“If the officer goes up to car, is profane, calls him, whatever, just like you, if you had that experience, you’d be unhappy with the officers. Unhappy with the outcomes. More likely to resist,” he explained.

Panelists are also recommending the police department adopt a formal bystander program, which encourages officers to intervene if they see another officer engage in conduct or behavior that’s inconsistent with the policy

“Just as important, audit the implementation on reporting and review use of force. What gets measured, gets done,” Bowman said. “You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.”

Pastor Kyev Tatum, a longtime critic, is pushing for the department to be put under a Justice Department consent decree.

"What frustrates us is we know they're breaking the general orders, the leadership knows they're breaking the general orders but they're allowing those officers to stay on the street with no discipline we know of and then the behavior continues," Tatum said.

The consultants praised the work of Police Chief Neil Noakes and acknowledged the department is making positive changes.

"The important point here is that this is not a problem that came up two years ago,” del Carmen said. “This is a problem that has been going on for many, many, many years."

For his part, Noakes said the department wants to improve and knows it must do better.

NBC 5's Scott Gordon contributed to this report.

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