FORT WORTH, Texas — The Fort Worth Police Department will soon have someone new at the helm.
Six finalists, with a combined total of at least 165 years of experience, are in the running to become Fort Worth’s 27th police chief. Five of the candidates work in Texas police departments, and one works in Nevada.
The city conducted in-person interviews with the candidates earlier in January, had candidates participate in a public forum, and formed panels of members of the department and community stakeholders for each of the candidates to meet with.
City Manager David Cooke will make the final selection for the chief position, and that decision will need to be ratified by the city council. That decision is expected to be made by the end of January.
The position is being vacated by retiring Chief Ed Kraus, who only took over in December 2019. He followed Joel Fitzgerald, who was chief from 2015 to 2019. Before Fitzgerald, Jeff Halstead was chief from 2008 until 2014.
Whoever is chosen to lead the department will face a couple of key challenges: bringing more diversity to a police organization that doesn't reflect the makeup of its community and continue a process to bring more oversight and community involvement around issues of policing and racial tensions.
As of September 2020, the Fort Worth Police Department had 1,712 law enforcement officers across its ranks, with 69 vacancies; that’s according to the department’s online demographics and diversity report.
That report also shows a force that’s predominantly male; 87% of sworn officers are male and 13% are female.
The department’s racial makeup does not mirror that of the community it serves, with a much higher percentage of white officers in comparison to the city's population and a smaller percentage of Hispanic, African American, or Asian officers compared to the community.
Following a number of high-profile incidents and racial tensions in recent years, including two involving Black women living in Fort Worth and white police officers, the city has made changes.
After a December 2016 incident involving officer William Martin, who became physical with a Black woman named Jackie Craig, who called the police for help, the city launched a Race and Culture Task Force to look at the issues facing the city in all aspects of government and beyond.
One of the task force's recommendations in regard to the police department was to create a Citizens’ Review Board to review issues and incidents. The independent oversight group would be made up of Fort Worth residents.
While that board has not been formed yet, the city hired for the first time a police monitor named Kim Neal, who will help in oversight and accountability. It’s understood Neal will help form the independent citizen review board, once it’s approved by the city council.
Whoever the new chief is, they’ll undoubtedly be faced with improving some of the above tensions, and possibly working with a citizens’ review board.
Read below for more on each candidate.
Wendy Baimbridge has been assistant chief of the Houston Police Department since March 2017 and has been with the department since 1992.
She is currently assigned to the patrol unit, overseeing 1,000 officers in five patrol divisions; those officers serve 1 million of Houston’s 2.3 million residents.
She said she also oversees the mental health division, which serves residents city-wide.
During a recent panel with the other finalists, she described spending years in each rank of the department, including work in investigations, patrol, and code enforcement. She’s also worked with problematic officers, she said, as well as getting officers back to work after injuries.
Baimbridge said Houston currently has a civilian review board and believes having a police monitor and independent review board are “important,” adding it “certainly helps you stay closer to the community.”
Baimbridge has a bachelor of business administration from the University of Houston and a Master's degree in sociology from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Her husband is a commander with the Houston PD, and she has a college-aged son. She is also active on Twitter.
Troy Gay is an assistant chief of the Austin Police Department; he’s been in his current role since 2013, and according to his bio on Fort Worth’s web site, he’s been with Austin Police since 1991.
He started his career in Waco in 1987. Gay is also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, having served in Desert Storm in 1990. He describes himself as a man of faith.
Gay said over the last 14 years, he’s been in command and executive roles in APD and has attended leadership schools during his time in law enforcement. He said he believes officers should be part of the community they serve, urging officers to take a couple of extra minutes during calls to connect with people and ask what they need.
During the finalists’ forum, Gay said he believes police oversight is “absolutely necessary,” adding he’s been involved in police oversight roles for the past 20 years. It “provides necessary accountability and transparency,” he said and helps to build community trust.
Gay received his undergraduate degree from Texas State, completed graduate work in criminal justice at the University of Virginia, and graduated from the FBI National Academy. He’s a married father of four and has one grandchild. Gay is active on social media.
Christopher C. Jones
Since February 2020, Christopher C. Jones has been an assistant sheriff with the Las Vegas Municipal Police Department and has been with the department for 28 years.
While he’s been in Las Vegas for almost three decades, Jones has Texas roots. He told the forum he was born and raised in the Texas Panhandle. He attended Tarleton State University in Stephenville before finishing his degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Jones said he’d like to bring his experience in police reform to the city of Fort Worth, as it seems to be a place that’s demonstrated the community and police are willing to sit down at the table together. He said he’s gained a tremendous amount of knowledge, experience and education over his nearly three decades of policing.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Jones is currently the assistant sheriff over the law enforcement administration and detention group. He’s also been a deputy chief over patrol division, community policing division, and Homeland Security division. He started his career as a corrections officer in 1993.
“It’d be foreign to me not to have oversight,” he told the forum. He said he would "fully support oversight” and a citizens review board.
“That’s something I believe has to happen in this age in policing to help increase legitimacy with our public,” he said.
After receiving his degree in criminal justice from UNLV, he also graduated from the FBI National Academy. Jones has been married for 26 years and has two adult children.
Derick D. Miller
Since 2017, Derick D. Miller has served as the Carrollton police chief and has been with the department his entire career. He started in 1993 as a reserve officer, he said and moved his way up every rank and position in the Carrollton police.
But Miller has deep Fort Worth roots. He grew up on the city’s west side, went to Monnig Middle School and Western Hills High School. He then received bachelor's and Master's degrees in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Miller told the forum his strengths include the ability to build relationships, formulate teams, and active listening. He told the crowd that he shifted his department’s culture away from one that was focused on citations and arrests and now focuses on building and maintaining trust in the community. Carrollton PD now has programs specifically connecting with youth and minority populations.
In terms of working with a police monitor and an oversight board, Miller said that any progressive police department in America should be open to that.
“I’m from this town, this is my hometown,” Miller told the forum. “My heart is here in Fort Worth and I’d love to be the chief of police here.”
Miller is married with two children. In addition to his work at UT Arlington, he received a graduate certificate in criminal justice education from the University of Virginia.
Neil Noakes has been a deputy chief in the Fort Worth Police Department since 2019, and with the department in general since 2000.
He currently directs the South Command, which includes South, East, and Central patrol divisions. According to his online biography, he’s served in many capacities within the department, including DWI and internal affairs.
Noakes told the forum he doesn’t just want to be a police chief; he wants to be police chief specifically in the city of Fort Worth. He said he’s spent a lot of time building relationships in his time on the force.
He addressed both officer morale and officer recruitment when asked during the forum. On morale, he said police officers should be involved in the changes that are being implemented about them and should have a say when they can.
He also acknowledged the department’s make-up does not mirror the community’s make-up and indicated they need to better recruit from and connect with under-represented communities.
When it comes to a police monitor and independent oversight, Noakes said, “We can try to stand our ground and be stubborn about it and push back, or we can be a part of it. I choose to be a part of it.”
He added it behooves police to be at the table when they can.
Noakes has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Tarleton State University and a master’s in criminology and criminal justice from TCU. He did not say where he grew up.
Julie Swearingin is an assistant chief with the Fort Worth Police Department. According to the department, she is the first female Hispanic assistant chief in the department’s history.
She joined the Fort Worth police in 1995 and said she believes her experience in each rank has prepared her for this ultimate step. Her assignments have included the gang unit, special victims section, criminal investigations, and patrol.
Swearinigin currently oversees FWPD’s finance/personnel bureau.
She described herself at the forum as “a little bit of the underdog.” Swearingin said she comes from a single-parent home, and she herself was once a 17-year-old pregnant school dropout.
“I’ve worked very hard to get where I am today,” she said, later adding when people say officers haven’t walked in their shoes, “I can honestly say I have and I do.”
Swearingin told the forum she personally started a campaign with FWPD called “Be The Change” to target women and minorities in recruitment in 2019. She said she personally called and emailed candidates, and later involved the police media team, purchased radio ads, and advertised in college newspapers.
Swearingin said today the department has more than 1,400 applicants, and they mirror the city’s racial makeup.
She said she supports FWPD’s current police monitor.
Swearingin received her bachelor’s in criminal justice from Tarleton State University and attended the FBI national academy.