HomeTop StoriesBad experience with a Fort Worth police officer? You now have...

Bad experience with a Fort Worth police officer? You now have the chance to talk it out

Fort Worth residents who have had a rude or unpleasant encounter with a police officer may now have the chance to sit face-to-face with that officer, and may even come out with a new friend in the process.

The city’s Office of Police Oversight Monitor has launched a mediation program to improve relations between the community and police.

The program started on April 1 and is completely voluntary. It gives residents and an official the opportunity to have an open dialogue about a complaint at a lower level in the presence of a mediator. It is an alternative to disciplinary or legal action for the officer.

Taylor Davis, the program director, says it provides an opportunity for understanding and empathy between police and the people they serve.

“The community member may not get the desired outcome from a rudeness complaint,” Davis said. “But if they can sit down at the table and really feel heard, they might even learn something from that officer and vice versa.”

Why Fort Worth has a Police Oversight Monitor office

The police monitoring agency was established in 2020 in response to a recommendation from the city’s 2018 Race and Culture Task Force report. It is designed to serve as an unbiased check on the Fort Worth Police Department.

The agency operates independently of the police and is responsible for tasks such as monitoring internal police investigations, conducting community policing engagement and reviewing bodycam footage and use of force reports. The agency does not investigate cases or take disciplinary action.

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The Race and Culture Task Force was formed following the 2016 arrest of Jacqueline Craig, who was tackled and arrested by an officer. The charges were dropped after body camera footage was leaked. The images went viral and Craig settled a lawsuit against the city for $150,000. Craig died of cancer in September 2023.

In September 2023, Bonycle Sokunbi became director of the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor. Previously, she served as a prosecutor and deputy independent police monitor in New Orleans, where she oversaw misconduct and coercion investigations.

Sokunbi says she fundamentally believes in responsibility, trust and honesty. She wants to ensure that the internal operations of the police department are as transparent as possible.

“When we think about police enforcement, we often only think about the shooting when someone is killed,” Sokunbi told the Star Telegram. “Policing happens in countless ways, so as soon as we suspect something we’re paying attention to, before the community even becomes concerned about an issue, we investigate, look for best practices and provide recommendations that police can to use. department can consider without being faced with a crisis.”

Sokunbi says one of the biggest wins so far since her arrival has been the mediation program.

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Community and police mediation program

The Office of Police Oversight Monitor investigated similar programs across the US, including in Baltimore and Miami. After receiving support from the community, the Fort Worth Police Department and the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, they began recruiting mediators.

After two months of recruitment and 27 interviews, the agency selected thirteen community mediators and four police officer ambassadors.

The mediators and ambassadors are unpaid volunteers who have completed a 45-hour voluntary training focused on active listening, empathy, conflict resolution and cultural sensitivity, with 100 percent attendance throughout the duration.

Low-level complaints include rudeness, lack of courtesy, unprofessional encounters, and poor communication.

Mediation sessions depend on the number of complaints per month.

Community mediators and police ambassadors will provide mediation training in January as part of the Community-Police Mediation Program.

Community mediators and police ambassadors will provide mediation training in January as part of the Community-Police Mediation Program.

Officer Brittany Jones is a police ambassador. She grew up near Stop 6 on Fort Worth’s east side and wanted to become a police officer so other young girls and women could do the same.

Neutrality was the biggest factor in her training. The goal is to break everything down into the simplest form for both the resident and the police officer so they can come to a mutual understanding or agreement.

She said she believes the program can help her become a better police officer.

“I want to help other officers understand that this program is not meant to be negative,” Jones said. “It gives us the opportunity to reconnect with the person who filed a complaint so we can have a healthy conversation rather than resort to disciplinary action.”

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Myeshia Smith is a community mediator and executive director of Operation Progress Fort Worth, a nonprofit serving youth in the Como community.

Smith said some community mediators did not have a positive view of police. After spending time training together and listening to personal stories, their attitudes changed.

She wanted to give back to the Fort Worth community and demonstrate how mediation ensures individuals are heard, valued and empowered to find resolution during conflict.

“My hope is that the community becomes aware of the program at the OPOM office, and that the community sees it as a service to them and also to police officers, and that everyone has an interest in rebuilding relationships and improving services use,” Smit said.

Sokunbi, the OPOM director, believes that an informed community is a safe community.

She hopes to get more public reports in the future so the community can better understand police policies.

She wants to take the frustration out of a nasty encounter at a grocery store or traffic stop and have conversations. Allowing people to use their own words to stand up for themselves – and explain their feelings – can help mend relationships with police.

“We have to reach a point in society where we understand that conflict is healthy,” Sokunbi said. “That we should be able to discuss the problems and not just be angry about the problems, that change sometimes comes from understanding and agreements.”

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