Halstead asks for community’s help in securing funds for special unit, pledges to increase diversity
Tammye Nash | Senior Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead this week reaffirmed his commitment to maintaining a diverse police force staffed by officers who are aware of and sensitive to the special needs and issues of the city’s racially, ethnically and culturally diverse communities.
“We need people like the community to serve the community,” Halstead said during the community forum held Tuesday night, Aug. 31, at the Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods.
“There is strength in diversity, and if the police department doesn’t grow in diversity along with the city, you will see the gap,” Halstead said.
The chief also said he is pursuing grant money the department could use to establish a special unit, or at least an individual officer, dedicated specifically to investigating hate crimes in the city.
Halstead told the more than 50 people gathered for the Fort Worth Police Department Diversity Forum — organized by the department’s public relations department — that the department currently has no one trained to investigate hate crimes, which he said come with a special set of often intense and intensely-sensitive issues.
Hate crimes — such recent incidents of vandalism at a local mosque — “come with a nexus of issues that don’t occur in every crime,” Halstead said, adding that when officers who aren’t trained to recognize and deal with hate crimes can come across as rude and insensitive because “they are not understanding those special issues and the motivation behind such crimes.”
Halstead said that he has a “very narrow window of opportunity that is already closing” to acquire funding for a hate crimes unit, and he asked the community to “help us in moving forward with this.”
He asked that those in the community interested in helping the department by providing the information necessary to prove need for such a unit contact Lt. Paul Henderson, his chief of staff, at 817-392-4241.
Halstead said that he had recently returned from the three-day Consortium for Police Leadership and Equity conference, dedicated to building diversity and equity within police departments.
He said he had been invited to the conference “because of the progress we’re making” in Fort Worth toward those goals. But he acknowledged that the FWPD faces “significant challenges” in maintaining a diverse police force over the next five to 20 years. Some of those challenges, he said, arise out of the deep budget cuts forced on the city by the ongoing economic crisis.
“Some departments have had to sell off whole work divisions to make their budgets. We have had to be very creative to meet the 5 percent cuts the city has asked us to make,” Halstead said. “We are already grossly under-staffed. But we have cut $9 million from our budget without one layoff.”
To do that, the chief said, the police department has “retooled parts of our organization to maximize efficiency in our highest priority services,” but he added that the department has to plan today to meet the needs of future.
“What will our city look like in 20 years? We have to think about that now in our recruitment. We don’t have enough diversity in the department now, and that need will just continue to grow as the city grows,” he said. “We need to see a higher mix of persons to serve our rapidly growing city. You all know people in your communities who would make excellent police officers. We need you to encourage them to pursue this as a career.”
Recruitment officers speaking at the forum said that a group of about 1,450 applicants were that same night taking the civil service exam to join the department, and they “appear to be a very diverse group.”
That group of applicants represented “about 50 percent” of those who had been identified as eligible to apply, according to Sgt. Klein, who said the applicants had been recruited from forums that include LGBT job fairs, military job fairs, church activities, community forums, crime fairs and college and university campuses.
She said that the department has no openings beyond this current class of officer trainees, but that “we feel it is important for the academy staff to stay in contact” with possible future cadets. To that end, academy staff members will continue to attend job fairs and community events, including the upcoming Tarrant County Gay Pride Week parade, block party and picnic, set for early October.
Klein said that possible recruits are not asked about their sexual orientation, so she had no idea how many of those take the civil service exam for the next academy class were LGBT.
However, Sgt. Garcia, another academy staff member, said that FWPD recruiters “interest was great” at a recent LGBT job fair FWPD recruiters attended. “We got a great reception there.And based on the number of e-mails I got afterward, I believe we got a great response” in terms of LGBT people who applied.
The department’s LGBT liaison, Officer Sara Straten, later said she, too, had received a large number of e-mails and phone calls from people in the LGBT community interested in applying for the police force.
Halstead said he believes the response from the LGBT community has come in response to the department’s outreach to the community in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid in June 2009.
“Where else have you seen such a catastrophic event happen, and then seen such good things happen?” Halstead said. “We do have challenges ahead of us, but this department is more open and caring than ever before.”
He continued, “The biggest challenge for any officer is fulfilling the expectations of the job and of the community. Sometimes an officer’s actions can be perceived as rude, but anyone who takes the oath has a personal calling to protect.”
Halstead described an incident that happened to him as a young man living in Miami when an officer there stopped him without cause and assaulted him “just because I had long hair and dark skin and was driving a fancy car,” which the officer saw as a sure sign he was a drug dealer.
That incident, he said, instilled in him the drive to create a police force where such things wouldn’t happen.
“I have zero tolerance for anyone being disrespected” by an officer on his police force, he said. “If you do that, you have violated your oath. Now the challenge for me is to build a police force that provides holistic service, 24-7. An officer can provide great service, even after an arrest has been made.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.