Fort Worth police release parts of vehicle pursuit procedure, but much remains secret

Several prohibited vehicle pursuit tactics appear to be among elements of Fort Worth police protocol that remain outside of public view as the police department on Monday released other parts of its policy.

In a previous version of the policy, the department restricted officers from attempting to force a fleeing vehicle from the road by driving alongside or in front of it, ramming a vehicle and, in most circumstances, firing a gun to stop a vehicle or firing from a moving vehicle.

Narrow distances between vehicles, the passing of one police unit by another, pursuits on the wrong side of a road and barriers erected across a road to stop a fleeing vehicle were also practices that the protocol prohibited in 2019.

The department left the current forbidden tactics and sections on the use of tire deflation devices and the involvement of officers in a helicopter out of its public disclosure of department general orders on pursuits.

The policy elements that the city still regards as confidential were known in 2019 because sections that were in effect then were among documents filed in a lawsuit that involves a wrongful death claim against the city. The lawsuit was filed in connection with a 2018 pursuit in which a woman died when a suspect fleeing police crashed into her car at North Main Street and East Exchange Avenue.

The chase policy was last updated in 2021, according to a heavily redacted document filed last year in connection with another lawsuit.

It is not clear whether the police department or the city attorney’s office believes that the segments made public on Monday satisfy existing public records requests filed by news organizations, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, or whether the release resolves matters in dispute in a lawsuit the city filed in September against the Texas Office of the Attorney General.

The lawsuit, in the 419th District Court in Travis County, sought to prevent the policy from being made public.

The Star-Telegram requested the policy because of the potential for people uninvolved in a vehicle pursuit to be injured.

In July, Andra Craig, 57, was killed when his vehicle was hit by a Fort Worth police sport utility vehicle involved in a pursuit, ejecting him from the vehicle. Craig was a bystander and was not involved in the chase.

Samaria Ezell, a 15-year-old passenger, in June died in south Fort Worth when a vehicle crashed as its driver was being pursued by police.

Two other people were injured when the vehicle crashed into a pole and rolled . Ezell and the others in the vehicle were thrown from it.

Fort Worth police were pursuing the vehicle because officers believed it had possibly been stolen.

A Fort Worth police officer in the West 7th entertainment district last month pursued the operator of pickup truck suspected of drunken driving.

The pursuit ended when the suspect’s truck struck two pedestrians and an uninvolved vehicle. The pedestrians were taken to a hospital in critical condition and the suspect suffered significant injuries.

The policy portions released on Monday serve “the public’s interest in accountability and allows them to educate themselves on the department’s policies while simultaneously protecting the Fort Worth Police officers and our residents by not providing specific tactics used to apprehend offenders,” the department wrote in an advisory.

Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes described the matter as a balance of conflicting interests.

“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 wrote. “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 portions of the policy released Monday begin on page 106 of the general orders available on the department’s website.