Fort Worth's police officers are on their way to a new contract. They'd been working under an old contract that was supposed to expire last fall as discussions between the police association and the city dragged on for nearly a year and a half. The tentative agreement, reached Thursday, offers a range of incentives and pay raises for the city’s 1,625 officers.
The contract will add about $20 million to the city’s budget for policing. It’ll give officers a 2.2 percent raise in July, and yearly raises every October after that. It’ll also give better pay incentives for things like passing physical fitness tests or earning college degrees. Police and city officials say the deal will help Fort Worth recruit and attract top quality officers
“We really researched what other jurisdictions were paying,” said Fort Worth Assistant City Manager Valerie Washington. “And we tried to set ourselves up so we could be competitive, because we want recruits and even lateral recruits [transferring from other departments] to join our police department.”
The contract allows Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald to bring on more officers from other departments, which was a point of contention during the months-long negotiations. Fort Worth Police Officers Association president Rick Van Houten said the contract ensures that those transfers are vetted the same way as brand new officers.
“Ultimately, when they put a Fort Worth badge on, they represent the Fort Worth Police Department, and we want to make sure everyone meets the same standard,” Van Houten said. “And that’s what I think the contract got to.”
Officers also won concessions on things like overtime and scheduling. Van Houten said that’s important in a city that’s growing faster than its police force.
Another complicated negotiation involved disciplinary procedures for when cops are accused of doing wrong. One provision gives officers the right to look at body camera footage before making a statement about an incident that’s under review. Van Houten said that’ll ensure officers can deliver accurate accounts, instead of rely on memory alone, which he said can be clouded by adrenaline in high-pressure situations.
“If I’m wearing a camera, and I turn that camera on, why shouldn’t I have the ability to view it to make sure that my memory is correct?” Van Houten said. “Everybody else is going to Monday-morning quarterback me off of it.”
Valerie Washington said it took some work out but she thinks the contract strikes a careful balance when it comes to the disciplinary process.
“We want to make sure that the labor agreements are not unfairly protecting an officer over a citizen,” she said. “It was our desire to make sure we were meeting in the middle and making sure officers would be fairly represented and it wasn’t at the detriment of the citizen.”
Both negotiators said it was an amicable process, even if it took a little longer than expected.
The deal still has to be approved by the officers and by the Fort Worth City Council. That's expected to happen within a month.
This story has been updated throughout.