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

Bad experience with a Fort Worth police officer? You now have a chance to talk it out
Fort Worth residents who have a rude or unpleasant encounter with a police officer may now get a chance to sit face-to-face with that officer, and could even come out with a new friend in the process.

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

The program started April 1 and is entirely voluntary. It gives residents and an officer a chance to have an open dialogue about a lower-level complaint 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 result that they want from a complaint regarding rudeness,” Davis said. “But if they’re able to sit down at the table and really feel heard, they may even learn something from that officer and vice versa.”

Why Fort Worth has an Office of the Police Oversight Monitor

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

The office works independently of the Police Department and is responsible for duties that include monitoring internal police investigations, conducting community-police engagement outreach, and auditing body cam footage and use of force reports. The office does not investigate cases or administer disciplinary actions.

The Race and Culture Task Force was created after 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 footage went viral, and Craig settled a lawsuit against the city for $150,000. Craig died from cancer in September 2023.

In September 2023, Bonycle Sokunbi became director of the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor. She was previously a prosecutor and a deputy independent police monitor in New Orleans, overseeing misconduct and force investigations.

Sokunbi says she fundamentally believes in accountability, trust and fairness. She wants to make sure that the inner workings of the police department is as transparent as possible.

“A lot of times when we think of police oversight, we only think about the shooting when someone ends up dead,” Sokunbi told the Star Telegram. “Policing happens in tons of ways, so as soon as we get an inkling of something that we’re paying attention to, before the community’s even concerned about an issue, we’re researching, figuring out best practices and providing recommendations that the police department can consider without being under the lights of a crisis.”

Sokunbi says one of the biggest wins so far since she arrived is the mediation program.

Community-Police Mediation Program

The Office of Police Oversight Monitor researched similar programs around the U.S., including in Baltimore and Miami. After gaining support from the community, Fort Worth Police Department, and Fort Worth Police Officers Association, they began to recruit mediators.

After two months of recruiting and 27 interviews, the office selected 13 community mediators and four police officer ambassadors.

The mediators and ambassadors are unpaid volunteers who went through a voluntary 45 hours of training that focused on active listening, empathy, conflict resolution and cultural sensitivity with a 100 percent attendance through its duration.

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

Mediation sessions are contingent upon the amount of complaints each month.

Community Mediators and police ambassadors conduct mediation training in January as part of the Community-Police Mediation Program.

Community Mediators and police ambassadors conduct 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 the east side of Fort Worth and wanted to become a police officer so other young girls and women could aspire to do the same.

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

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 viewed as negative,” Jones said. “It gives us the opportunity to reconnect with the person that filed a complaint so that we have that healthy conversation instead of going to disciplinary actions.”

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

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

She wanted to give back to the Fort Worth community and show how mediation allows individuals to be heard, valued and empowered to find resolution during conflict.

“My hope is that the community becomes aware of the program in the OPOM office, as well as the community sees it as a service for them and as well as police officers, and everyone has an interest in restoring relationships and utilizing the services,” Smith said.

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

She hopes in the future to have more public reports for the community to better understand police policies.

She wants to take the frustration from a bad encounter at a grocery store or traffic stop and have conversations. Allowing people to use their own words to advocate for themselves — and explain their feelings — can help restore relationships with police.

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

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