FORT WORTH, Texas — It's a trend cities across the nation are hoping to curb: a rise in violent crime.
Here in Fort Worth, the city is on pace to pass the number of homicides set in 2020 - a 26-year high.
Fort Worth's police chief, Neil Noakes, took on his new title and responsibilities just after the start of the year. And just weeks ago, the department launched Fort Worth Safe, a new summer crime program aimed at stopping the crime surge the city is seeing.
“What I want everyone to know is, I’m putting my heart and soul into this,” Noakes said. “We’ve taken well over 100 weapons out of the hands of violent criminals and we see doing even more and more as we go along.”
Fort Worth Safe relies on data to deploy officers and targets high-level offenses. The program has resulted in 116 arrests so far, according to department data. It’s also led to 87 new felony charges.
“It’s a surgical approach. It’s a smart-on-crime approach. It is not a soft-on-crime approach,” Noakes said. "We change according to crime trends and the needs of our citizens and the needs of our communities.”
Violent crime, though, is rising in Fort Worth. So far, through July 13, the city had reported 61 homicides. Noakes said he expects crime to increase in the summer, which is a nationwide trend.
“I’m concerned, because I want to make sure we’re addressing any issues our citizens are dealing with,” Noakes said.
Part of the Fort Worth Safe plan is developing trust. Noakes said that starts with community conversations. The department is already preparing for the trial of former officer Aaron Dean, who’s charged with murdering Atatiana Jefferson. Dean’s case does not yet have a court date.
“One of the most important things to happen before, during and after this trial is healing,” Noakes said. “Healing in our department, healing in our cities, healing in our communities and specifically in the communities that were most affected by this tragedy.”
Community policing isn’t a new concept or talking point, but Noakes said his efforts will be different.
“It’s one thing to say you’ll be in the community. It’s one thing to show up one day and say hi and shake some hands,” he said. “It’s a different thing to go back over and over and over again, to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
Noakes said his focus this summer is on both community safety and wellness - and adapting Fort Worth Safe if the spikes continue.
“Our most fundamental job as law enforcement agencies is to make people safe and to make people feel safe in their neighborhoods, in their homes, in their schools in their businesses,” Noakes said. “We’ve got to look at the data, but we’ve got to remember they’re people as well.”