FWC Panel Explores Vital Link Between Public Safety and Commerce

The Fort Worth Chamber recently hosted a panel of public safety leaders: Fort Worth Police Department Chief Neil Noakes, Fort Worth Fire Department Chief Jim Davis, and Tarrant County Commissioner Manny Ramirez. They gathered for a conversation about the importance of public safety in relation to business prosperity. The conversation was moderated by Leah King, President and CEO of the United Way of Tarrant County.

In the post-COVID economic climate, businesses across all industry sectors have faced challenges with labor shortages. While public safety entities also face labor issues, the panelists noted that retention was more of a focus than recruitment. Commissioner Ramirez mentioned that Tarrant County had a shortage of 275 jail staff 18 months ago, but that number had dwindled to 175 today. He highlighted the county's investments in improved training, a new academy for deputies, and an emphasis on ensuring employees feel valued. He noted that the sheriff’s department has witnessed a tenfold increase in applicants over the last year, indicating that the applicant pool was sufficient and their challenge was more about training and retaining quality employees. Chief Noakes echoed similar sentiments from the Fort Worth Police Department’s perspective, stating that the City Council was very supportive of funding positions required by Fort Worth PD, and that they had taken a renewed focus on valuing existing employees and investing in their training and development.

Chief Davis provided historical background on the changing role of fire departments across the U.S. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a precise focus on preventing large building fires that were causing loss of life and immense property damage to homeowners and businesses. However, in the 2000s, their mission evolved to encompass hazardous materials, terrorism, and social determinants of health—indicators such as crime, overdoses, homelessness, human trafficking, etc., that paint a community-wide picture of health. When these indicators do not tell a positive story, it casts serious doubts on a community’s long-term economic outlook. Similarly, Chief Noakes discussed his time as an area commander earlier in his career, during which he led an economic development committee. He stressed that unless people and businesses felt safe in their community and had a good relationship with law enforcement, business growth would be difficult to achieve.

The panel also addressed the topic of homelessness and how each of their organizations interacts as part of the solution to this issue. Chief Noakes discussed striking a balance between a philosophy that criminalizes homelessness and an approach that enables it. He recognized how this issue can impact business owners and discussed the PD’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), which offers resources and help to homeless people in Fort Worth. Commissioner Ramirez highlighted JPS Health Network as an award-winning public safety net hospital that does not refuse service to anyone. He also noted the progress on the issue of homelessness in Tarrant County, as the total homeless population dropped each quarter in 2023, reaching a low point since Q2 of 2021.

It was an informative discussion that made clear how intertwined public safety is with economic strength in Fort Worth, a relationship recognized by each panelist. It is a critical part of the FWC’s mission to connect business and community leaders with elected officials and policymakers who impact their business operations. The “Leaders in Government” series, presented by Kelly Hart, provides this platform to have such conversations. Stay tuned for more events centered around public policy issues that impact your business.

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  • April 23: Fort Worth City Council, 10 a.m. at City Hall
  • April 30: Tarrant County Commissioners Court, 10 a.m. at G.K Maenius Administration Building
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