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Fort Worth City Council discusses lack of police presence in elementary schools, sidewalk maintenance in wide-ranging session

The city received an update on the police department's school resource officers -- among other items -- during Tuesday's workshop.

FORT WORTH, Texas — School resource officers, crumbling sidewalk infrastructure, illegal fireworks, overgrown lots and airport names -- it was all on the table on Tuesday as the Fort Worth City Council engaged in a wide-ranging information workshop on various topics facing the city at the moment.

Top of mind following last month's tragic Uvalde shooting was a briefing from the Fort Worth Police Department on its school resource officer program, but even seemingly less hot-button subjects like gaps in the city's sidewalk network drew impassioned comments from council members at this hours-long session. 

The biggest question surrounding most of the topics on the day's docket? How to budget for their handling.

Here's a look at what the council -- and the experts they brought in to answer their questions -- discussed during Tuesday's meeting.

School resource officers

FWPD Assistant Chief Joseph Sparrow spoke with council members Tuesday about the department’s use of school resource officers, and detailed to the council how the department contracts with various school districts to provide safety and security to students and teachers.

School resource officers, Sparrow said, serve to act as a liaison between the police department and schools, and handle offenses class B or higher. (Class C misdemeanors, Sparrow said, are generally left to the school to handle.)

Sparrow said the department’s school resource officers were some of the best trained police officers on the force, thanks to various trainings these officers undergo each summer on topics such as de-escalation training and training to identify students going through crisis. The officers also go through ALERT trainings every summer; in this scenario-based training, they practice clearing schools and saving students in the event of an emergency like a mass shooting.

In many Fort Worth high schools, there are two student resource officers, Sparrow said. Each middle school the department contracts with has one officer. No elementary schools have any officers in them at the moment, Sparrow said, because it isn’t cost-effective to use them.

“I don’t know any large agency that does elementary schools,” Sparrow told the council. “We recently did a price projection of how much it would cost all Fort Worth schools -- and it’s like $80 million. It’s just not cost-effective.”

District 8 City Councilmember Chris Nettles countered that narrative and said the city can’t allow money or budget to be an issue when it comes to saving lives.

“With just the recent tragedy, it was an elementary school,” Nettles said, referring to the Uvalde shooting that saw 19 students and two teachers killed on May 24. “We’re at a state now [where] we can make a decision for a path forward. We need to consider working with school districts to make sure we can start staffing at the elementary schools.”

Responded Sparrow: “We would have to add more than 200 officers.”

Replied Nettles: “I don’t care if you have to add 500.”

Sidewalk gaps

Another hot-button issue in Tuesday's information session was sidewalks throughout the city increasingly falling into disrepair.

Transportation & Public Works Department Director William Johnson told council members that the city has more than 3,500 linear miles of sidewalks, but lacks a specific budget for sidewalk maintenance.

“Each year, as we get complaints, we go out, investigate them and may take money from other activities like road reconstruction or resurfacing to take care of severe cases,” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that one city ordinance currently requires property owners to build or fill in sidewalk gaps, and another one assigns the responsibility of sidewalk maintenance to tenants or property owners. But, Johnson said, these ordinances haven't been historically enforced.

Johnson said his department prioritizes filling gaps and maintenance as part of the city’s "Safe Routes to Schools" program in which his team meets with districts, talks about where students are walking to and from, and coordinates with them about improving amenities such as sidewalks and crossing markings at intersections.

Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens said she remains quite frustrated with how the city approaches sidewalk needs, repairs and gaps.

"There are some schools and school officials who really don’t know who to call at City Hall, and that’s because we could do better on our communication,” Bivens said. “I don’t know how you communicate with the schools. I really don’t believe your staff meets with every school -- because I see gaps in my neighborhoods." 

Added Bivens: "I hate seeing kids walking in the mud."

Illegal fireworks on the fourth

Another major talking-point Tuesday involved FWPD's efforts at managing illegal fireworks displays around next month's Fourth of July holiday. 

FWPD promised to staff its Joint Emergency Operations Center daily from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. between July 2 and July 4, with the primary goal being to respond to emergency and high-priority calls for service. 

At the same time, FWPD said it would focus on providing adequate messaging on fireworks safety -- including the fact that fireworks are illegal in the Fort Worth city limits, and any fireworks seen in the city can be reported by calling 817-392-4444 or using the MyFW app. 

Renaming Fort Worth Alliance Airport

Tuesday's meeting also feature discussion surrounding the city's plans to rename the Fort Worth Alliance Airport as Perot Field Fort Worth Alliance Airport. 

The request for the name change was made in February to rename the airport after the late North Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, who founded Electronic Data Systems and Perot Systems. 

"Through Perot's companies, the airport has grown to 1,200 acres and is home to some of the premiere global logistics companies in the world," Fort Worth Aviation Director Roger Venables said. 

Lawn care complaints

Fort Worth Director of Public Health and Code Compliance Brandon Bennett also talked with council members about the city's response to overgrown grass, which he said the city pays particular attention to in the summer months. 

Per state law, Bennett said, the city has to wait until grass grows to taller than 12 inches before it can mow overgrown lots themselves. The department then generates a mow schedule with the city contractor to ensure these lots are mowed all summer long. 

The costs incurred by this mowing inform how the city determines the fines it charges the owners of these unkempt lots for failing to maintain their grass.

"Expect our officers this time to be going out proactively looking for that tall grass," Bennett said.

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