Fort Worth police switch gears, release part of police chase policy

dfwnewsa | February 12, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Fort Worth police switch gears, release part of police chase policy

Fort Worth Police Sergeant Jason Spencer speaks to members of the media after a police chase in the West 7th Entertainment District.(Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)
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The Fort Worth Police Department released portions of its police chase policy Feb. 12, after months of refusing to do so. 

The department said in a news release that it is providing the policy portions “in the spirit of  honoring the commitment to transparency.” The police chase policy came under scrutiny after the deaths of 57-year-old Andre Craig and 15-year-old Samaria Ezell, who died in separate chases last summer. 

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Multiple news organizations, including the Fort Worth Report, requested the policy after those deaths; the police department refused to release it, instead suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a bid to keep it confidential. Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes previously told the Fort Worth Report that making the policy public could endanger both officers and the general public.

The released policy lays out what factors officers should take into account when initiating a chase; communication protocol during a chase; supervisor responsibilities; when to terminate a chase; and required reporting post-chase. 

Several portions of the policy remain confidential and are marked as ‘restricted’ in policy documents. These include sections defining what kind of chases are authorized; restrictions on chases; specific chase tactics, including the use of tire deflation devices; and several unnamed sections. 

“I stand by the decision to not inform criminals of our strategies. That said, I wholeheartedly believe in being transparent to our community who will now be more educated and aware of our policy and how it applies in various situations,” Noakes said in a statement. “Having a clear policy is important and procedures must be followed; however, let’s be clear that the culpability and responsibility lies with the individual who chose to evade.”

The department’s decision to release portions of its current policy comes after the Report and KERA spoke with six other North Texas police departments about why they chose to release their chase policies. Police chiefs from across Tarrant and Dallas County emphasized the importance of transparency to gain community buy-in. 

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This story is part of the Fort Worth Report’s “Deadly Pursuits” series in collaboration with KERA News. You can read more about police car chases in North Texas here.

Fort Worth’s decision to continue withholding tactical information differs from departments like Grapevine, Dallas and North Richland Hills, which share information on officers’ use of tire deflation devices. The Arlington Police Department’s approach is more similar to Fort Worth’s; the department releases a redacted version of its policy upon request.

An older, unredacted version of the Fort Worth Police Department’s policy was revealed in a lawsuit over the death of Gaudencia Meza in a 2018 police chase. Through the course of the litigation, the department’s 2019 policy was provided, including sections detailing three different tire deflation devices used by the department, and when their use was appropriate. The department’s current policy was last updated Jan. 12, 2021. It includes several new sections that were not included in the 2019 policy. 

An analysis of chase data released by the Fort Worth Police Department in its annual use of force reports showed nearly a third of chases have caused a crash since 2017. Few chases violated the department’s policy, however.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or @_wolfemily

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