Fort Worth police chief says new initiative will reduce violence, improve relationships

Fort Worth police have made 139 arrests including 39 gang members, brought 103 new felony charges and seized 79 weapons in attempts to combat the rising number of violent crimes committed in the city.

It’s all part of the department’s new #FortWorthSafe initiative, a program designed to combine enforcement with community involvement in areas most plagued by a rise in shootings, stabbings and other violent crime the department says it’s seen this year.

That nationwide trend started in 2020, and Police Chief Neil Noakes said it’s not going to slow down or go away on its own.

“Obviously we’re focusing on Fort Worth, and what we wanted to do is prior to the summer starting … we wanted to devise an initiative where we were very proactive about being in communities and doing everything we can to positively impact violent crime,” Noakes said in an interview with the Star-Telegram on Wednesday.

While police have not yet released the most recent statistics on violent crime rates, both Noakes and Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said the city has a serious problem with violence.

What is #FortWorthSafe?

Noakes said the department is trying out a more strategic approach to policing as it works to reverse the increase. That means combining community policing with technology and data to combat violent crime.

The Fort Worth Safe initiative, which began in May, combines modernized enforcement efforts with community policing in a way that the two aspects strengthen each other. It was implemented after a 26-year high number of homicides, with 112 slayings in 2020.

Because of the technology available to police today, responses to crimes don’t have to be as imposing, Noakes said. Police can use data and intelligence to more swiftly and precisely go into communities after a crime and make arrests.

Before this technology was available, Noakes said, police would respond by sending as many officers as possible into the area where a crime was committed and canvassing as they tried to find the criminal. Now they can have a less invasive presence in communities while solving crime more efficiently.

Using technology and intelligence gathered in the community in enforcement efforts makes it easier to build positive relationships with residents, and building those relationships helps police gather more intelligence that can be used in enforcement, he said.

“Sometimes those interactions caused problems between the department and the very citizens we were trying to help,” Noakes said.

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Community policing

Having that less imposing, more “surgical approach,” as Noakes called it, doesn’t mean removing police from neighborhoods, though.

Data and technology can’t replace the benefit of having officers in communities, Noakes said. Neighborhood police officers, law enforcement with the special task of going into communities and getting to know the people who live and work there, are a vital component of the Fort Worth Safe initiative.

Those officers raise awareness of the initiative, with things like business cards that have a scannable QR code on the back, directing residents to the initiative website.

There, Fort Worth residents can view information and results of the program, as well as give feedback. Noakes said feedback will be an invaluable resource as police constantly look for ways to improve the program or maintain aspects that are working.

Noakes said promoting the new initiative to residents is important, but neighborhood officers’ job goes beyond just advertising the program to becoming true members of the community and lending a hand whenever possible.

As they’re informing residents about Fort Worth Safe and gathering feedback that will be vital to constantly adapting and improving the program, they’re also listening for the needs or residents that may not be traditionally under the purview of police.

Noakes said the department is also careful to remember that the majority of people living in hot spots aren’t criminals.

“We know for a fact that the overwhelming majority of people there are great people like everybody else that want to be safe in their community and want the violent predators out of their areas,” Noakes said.

Noakes wants to build relationships with those residents and provide the policing and resources to help improve their communities.

Rebuilding trust, supporting communities

With distrust of police nationwide and in Fort Worth, Noakes said the job of building positive relationships may be more difficult but worth the time and effort.

Noakes said while he believes that Fort Worth strongly supports police, officers still know there are negative feelings toward law enforcement both locally and nationwide. Police also need to be prepared to address negative feelings toward officers spurred by incidents that happen outside Fort Worth, he said.

It makes positive interactions all the more important.

“Every interaction an officer has with another human being is an opportunity to change the narrative,” Noakes said. “Regardless of what they’ve seen on the news, they’ve just had a positive interaction with another human being who just happens to wear a uniform.”

Neighborhood officers are in communities across Fort Worth every day to engage with businesses and residents, and that’s part of the reason they’re there.

Noakes said going to schools, parks, churches and having community events will lead to positive impacts. Police have to be in the community to protect it.

“And once we are in the community, we can become [part of] the community,” he said. “I think we’re proving that we really do care about the community and that we really do want to do something about violent crime that neighborhoods are experiencing.”

Stepping out of more traditional roles of police and helping to provide for the non-law enforcement needs of residents will make a difference, Noakes said.

He said officers want to help simply because they care about communities, but he also hopes these actions will serve as a demonstration of that care.

Events like one planned for Thursday, when officers will be going into Wilbarger Park from 9 to 11 a.m. to help nearby residents with lawn care, house work and even installing air-conditioning units, will go a long way to showing the commitment to neighborhoods, said Officer Buddy Calzada, a spokesman for the department.

And when the community faces tough times or when a law enforcement officer does something bad, either locally or otherwise, Noakes said the department will already have established relationships to listen to residents and work on addressing concerns.

“This way we’re already in the community, so that if something happens we can heal together,” Calzada said.

‘In this for the long haul’

City and community leaders agree that the issue of increasing violent crime in Fort Worth won’t be something that can be solved overnight, and Noakes said police are ready to work as long as they need to see improvement.

They’ve already seen some, he said. Hundreds of arrests, which Noakes said have been made as a part of the effort to reduce violent crime and not just for the sake of making arrests, along with at least 79 weapons confiscated as a part of the program show signs of improvement.

But that’s not something that can be rushed. The department wants to see measurable improvements as fast as possible, Noakes said, but he knows the department has its work cut out for it.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” Noakes said. “We’re going to be here with the citizens of Fort Worth making sure we’re doing everything we have to do to address violent crime for as long as we have to.”

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