Around a dozen activists representing a wide range of political affiliations gathered recently at a restaurant on the Near Southside to discuss the CCPD. Fort Worth’s Crime Control and Prevention District is fueled by a half-cent city tax, and in the wake of ongoing protests against the killing of unarmed black men and women by white police officers, conservative- and progressive-minded activists see eliminating the tax as serving both their aims.
The tax-funded program, which provides crime prevention, enhanced enforcement, community education, and officer training, is up for renewal via a public vote on Tuesday, July 14. The city’s website says, “Since the [CCPD] was created in 1995, the city’s population has grown by 93%. During that same period, the number of Part I crimes (murder, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson) per 100,000 citizens has gone down by 63%.”
Libertarian Wesley Fisher said his “big issue” with the CCPD tax is mental health. “I have had bad experiences with the police. For me, this effort is about telling the police that we are going to take your funding until there are real reforms.”
Without mentioning specifics, Fisher said he had a mental health crisis that led to a hospitalization two years ago. Police were sent to his home, and he sustained a permanent injury to his right arm during the subsequent arrest. Instead of taking him to a dedicated mental health facility, the cops put him in jail, he said.
Fisher, a white man, said police brutality affects people of all races. He believes tax funds would be better spent on providing jail diversion programs for people who live with mental health conditions.
Just under 30% of the CCPD’s annual budget of $85,733,428 goes to “enhanced enforcements” that include SWAT and Special Response Team officers, according to the city.
“Instead of militarizing the police,” Fisher said, “let’s find lasting solutions to our crime programs. Let’s stop making the prison system the mental health system.”
Studies consistently document that just over half of adults in U.S. jails and prisons have at least one diagnosed mental health condition.
“People are taxed enough already,” self-described anarchist Republican Amy Hedtke said. “I was already against taxation and [police] brutality. As an anarchist, I don’t like seeing the government use force to take things from people. That’s what a tax is. You may be choosing to pay a sales tax, but the business owner has to collect it and turn it in, or his business license is in danger. It removes choices from the market.”
Several of the activists I spoke with that day cited fiscal reasons for opposing the CCPD tax. That evening, Trey Holcomb, Libertarian candidate for Texas’ 12th Congressional District, addressed a largely left-leaning group of protesters at the Tarrant County Courthouse. After briefly describing the CCPD program and upcoming vote, he began handing out yellow doorknob hangers that included a website (Endthepolicetax.org) and that read, “Fort Worth City Council and Fort Worth police department need to have a serious conversation about their policing policies before getting more money from taxpayers.”
Past reporting by the Weekly has documented questionable spending and lax oversight related to how the CCPD fund was used. In 2004, shortly before the CCPD’s second five-year renewal, the Weekly found that $600,000 of CCPD funds went to pay overtime for police guarding events at Texas Motor Speedway and Bass Performance Hall (“Controlling the Crime District,” Dec. 15, 2004). CCPD board members, who are tasked with approving expenses, were directed to “not nitpick” approvals, according to Clyde Picht, a former city councilmember who sat on the CCPD board at the time.
In 2009, shortly after voters renewed the CCPD district for the third time, Mayor Mike Moncrief disbanded the independent board and placed city councilmembers in charge. That remains the current system. The nine current CCPD board members consist of Fort Worth’s eight city councilmembers plus Mayor Betsy Price. Self-described conservative Joe Palmer said greater community representation on the crime prevention board is needed before he feels comfortable allowing tax money to be used through the fund.
Protesters, as part of their daily rallies, have taken to holding signs that list Fort Worth Police Association donations to city councilmembers.
“Every time you have something like this, there is always a community that [financially] benefits from it,” Republican precinct chair Bill Eastland told me during the restaurant meeting. “That community has a tendency to use union dues to donate to politicians. The government should be the least government possible. Over time, you have a tendency to spend money on things that you would never have if you were making normal, rational decisions in a budget-making process with regular tax revenue. I predict that if [the vote to renew the CCPD] is defeated, you might see them try to do it again.”
John MacFarlane, chair of the Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club, said his environmental group would like to see CCPD tax revenues used to fund the Trinity Metro.
“Although Fort Worth is the 13th largest city in the United States,” MacFarlane said, “we are years behind other metropolitan cities in regards to mass transit options like light rail, trolleys, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail. Because of this, the air in Fort Worth contains extremely high concentrations of ground-level ozone, which the EPA considers unhealthy for sensitive groups.”
The Fort Worth police department has not responded to requests for comment. The city, in a statement about the CCPD program, said the tax is for “purposes that are connected to crime control and prevention. That does not mean the CCPD dollars are all used by the police department. In the current year, the CCPD funded afterschool programs at dozens of schools across multiple school districts within the city, partially funded the operation of the One Safe Place resource center for victims of domestic violence, and provided dollars to other vital community programs. If continuation of the CCPD is not approved, the sales tax rate within the city would be decreased by one half-cent, and the total amount of revenue available to be programmed for use in meeting needs within the city would be decreased.”