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Waco will explore new mental health, community policing strategies

After weeks of nationwide protests in the name of George Floyd, the Waco City Council on Tuesday discussed the future of law enforcement in the city.

Assistant City Manager and Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt outlined the department’s current policies, explaining how the department handles complaints, how officers use force and how they are trained. And he discussed with the council possible future directions, such as emphasizing community policing and handling mental health calls with civilian professionals.

“Not all of these issues that are criminal justice or crime related can be solved by police,” Holt said. “There are a lot of these issues we can’t arrest our way out of, so we have to be thoughtful about things we do in the community related to economic development and programs.”

Holt said involving neighborhoods and neighborhood associations in police efforts is a good first step, a strategy the department used in a community policing effort in the 1990s.

“We work with them, we bring forces to bear where we can and we displace crime out of those neighborhoods,” Holt said. “It’s going to take all of us working together to do that.”


District 1 Councilwoman Andrea Barefield said modern-day Waco has so far avoided the kind of upheaval other communities have seen over incidents of police brutality.

“We haven’t had to bear the brunt and burden that many cities have recently, and we attribute that to the dedication that you serve,” Barefield said. “It is imperative right now that we all stop and remember and pause for a second, about what is actually happening.”

She said she consulted with every law enforcement officer she knew, and all of them discussed the importance of community involvement.

“I will continue to ask that from a city management perspective, we find a way to make a pathway,” Barefield said. “If it’s got to be a hybrid program that adds a form of community and neighborhood policing, that that’s something we focus on.”

District 5 Councilman Jim Holmes said there’s already a good foundation for trust in Waco between the public and the police. But he asked about police departments’ growing role in responding to people in mental health crisis. Holt said the department had a 36% increase in mental health related calls in the last year.


“We get about three to four a day from someone in crisis, where they’ve gone beyond intervention by a family member or medical personnel, so police are called in,” Holt said. “Inevitably, one of those a day ends in detention. It’s a very narrow scope of authority that’s given to use in the civil code.”

Holt said those calls can last hours or days and are often the most dangerous calls an officer can respond to.

“Those are very challenging cases, and an opportunity for our community and community resources, both medical and government, to work together just like we are with the Behavioral Health Leadership Team.”

Holt said the team is trying to secure funding for local mental healthcare, but those systems have been defunded at the state and federal level, leaving it to police to respond to mental health crisis.

“When no one else can solve it, the public calls the police department and expects the police department to solve it,” Holt said.

Holt said Colorado Springs, Colorado, sends mental health professionals to those calls instead and follows up with them.

“I believe there is an opportunity to divert that away from law enforcement,” Holt said. “I don’t know of a single police officer that would disagree with that.”

8 Can’t Wait

The department has long followed the tenets of 8 Can’t Wait, an online campaign urging police departments to following eight de-escalation policies. Holt said he based his report partly on President Barack Obama’s final report for the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which focused on building trust, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction, officer training and education, and officer safety and wellness.

Of the 156 recommendations that came out of the report, 67 are under local law enforcement’s control. Of those, 38 of them have been implemented, and 22 could be feasibly done in Waco. Six of the recommendations conflict with state law or would be difficult to do.

One of the items involves planning ahead and prioritizing de-escalations for mass demonstrations.

“That is currently our practice, but we need to codify it into policy,” Holt said.

Holt also reviewed internal affairs investigation procedures for complaints from officers or citizens. Complaints can be filed online at waco-texas.com/police.

“Because the IA process is our only disciplinary process offered under civil service, you find that the majority of investigations are the result of administrative issues such as being late for work or operational issues, like backing … into a pole in a city vehicle,” Holt said.

The process also covers issues such as excessive use of force, racial profiling, lying and other conduct that could be considered criminal in nature.

The police department has seen 25 sustained complaints in 2020 so far, and documented 61 in 2019, 56 in 2018 and 63 in 2017. So far in 2020, 87% of complaints have been internal and 12% have been from citizens. In 2018, 27% of complaints came from citizens. Holt said the jump in complaints came from six or seven people all reporting on behalf of the same person, who complained of being improperly searched and arrested.

“That one was investigated very thoroughly and was found to be unfounded at the time,” Holt said.

Excessive force

Barefield asked if any investigations in the last four years regarded excessive force. Holt said there are three reports under investigation right now, including one from last week.

“ ‘Force’ is defined in state law as ‘physical contact made with a subject to compel the subject to submit to authority for a search, detainment, arrest, or to defend a person from an illegal act,” Holt said. “This contact may be made with bodily contact alone, or assisted with a device.”

Holt said Waco officers must report when they use themselves, a chemical, impact devices like batons, and electronic devices and canine bites, including failed attempts to strike a subject. Officers used Tasers more than any other kind of force, using them 37 times in 2019, 30 times in 2018 and 31 times in 2017.

Holt said in 2015 the department had eight officers leave the force through retirement or for other reasons, a number that has doubled in recent years. In 2020, 7 have left so far.


He said in addition to their initial training, officers receive follow-up training on implicit bias, civilian interaction training, de-escalation training, interaction with Deaf drivers, cultural diversity, a crisis intervention class and human trafficking courses. More recently, officers have been taking racial equity training through the Cooper Foundation and the Waco Foundation.

Holt said the department is adopting racial history training based on a program from the San Jose Police Department in California. Holt said the department had plans to introduce that training in July for recent police academy graduates, but COVID-19 delayed that plan.

“Ours is going to be much more centered on Texas, Waco in particular,” Holt said. “As you know, there’s plenty of material there for Waco and Texas to talk about in that class.”

Holt said Deputy City Manager Bradley Ford, who will soon replace City Manager Wiley Stem, brought up extending the training to other city departments.

Near Trump's rally site, black Tulsa lives with fiery legacy

TULSA, Okla. — In the real world, 74-year-old Donald Shaw is walking on the empty, parched grass slope by Tulsa’s noisy crosstown expressway. He’s on the other side of the city’s historical white-black dividing line from where President Donald Trump will hold a rally Saturday with his overwhelmingly white supporters.

But Shaw can conjure stories and images of so much more — the once-thriving black community that stood on this same ground, destroyed nearly a century ago by white violence and ensuing decades of repression.

“Just imagine, in your mind, all these homes,” Shaw said one morning this week, remembering the black-built, black-owned houses and churches that covered dozens of blocks where he’s walking, the site of Tulsa’s 1921 race massacre. “Just picture that.”

“Hotels, movie theater, roller rink,” said Shaw, a retired man who spends his mornings sitting in the shade of an engraved stone memorial to the Home Style Café, A.S. Newkirk photography studio, and literally hundreds of other African American-owned bakeries, barber shops, attorney offices and businesses razed in the massacre.

Burned bricks and a fragment of a church basement are about all that survive today of the more than 30-block historically black district. On May 31 and June 1 in 1921, white residents and civil society leaders looted and burned Tulsa’s black Greenwood district to the ground, and used planes to drop projectiles on it.

The attackers killed up to 300 black Tulsans, and forced survivors for a time to internment camps overseen by National Guard members.

Historians say the trouble began after a Tulsa newspaper drummed up a furor over a black man who allegedly stepped on a white girl’s foot. When black Tulsans showed up with guns to prevent the man’s lynching, white Tulsa responded with overwhelming force. A grand jury investigation at the time concluded, without evidence, that unidentified agitators had given Tulsa’s African Americans both their firearms and what was described as their mistaken belief “in equal rights, social equality and their ability to demand the same.”

“Everything they had downtown,” Shaw said of the white-owned business district where Trump will rally, “we had here.”

Trump’s choice to resume his giant rallies in Oklahoma, a loyal Republican state, and in Tulsa, an oil center, has brought a surge of national interest in the Greenwood district once called Tulsa’s “Negro Wall Street.” His rally at the 19,000-seat BOK Center will be Trump’s first since the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the U.S. by late March.

Trump’s initial plan to hold the rally on Friday — Juneteenth — also sparked interest in the turbulent racial legacy here, although he later pushed back the rally date to Saturday. So has a spring of nationwide street protests over police killings of George Floyd and other black Americans.

Despite the Oklahoma heat, visitors of all races drive up to the site of the destroyed black community. They take photos of themselves in front of the inscribed memorials to what’s now called Black Wall Street. They raise a defiant fist in the air for other photos in front of a mural to Black Wall Street painted on the side of the overpass.

For Shawn-Du Stackhouse, a barber from the Washington, D.C., area and one of those visiting the Tulsa massacre memorials, the proof that cellphone videos provide of killings of African Americans today somehow make the killings of the past, like Tulsa’s, more real as well.

For black Americans, the cellphone videos “show what they have already known,” Stackhouse said. “It gives more confidence” to speak up about all the killings, past and present, he said.

The Tulsa rampage was part of a surge of white attacks on black communities — from Washington, D.C., to Chicago to the Pacific Northwest — at the time, said Scott Ellsworth, a historian who has worked for decades to bring the Tulsa massacre to light. The Ku Klux Klan was surging as well, putting many of its members in public office and other influential positions.

In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson gave a White House screening and praise to “The Birth of a Nation,” a tremendously influential and viciously racist film on the South.

Today, opponents say Trump’s statements and actions embolden white supremacist sentiment in the country. That includes Trump’s opposition to renaming military bases named after Confederate Civil War figures, and his emphasis on a tough “law and order” response to recent protests. Trump denies any racism, and said his administration has been beneficial to African American citizens.

Asked Monday about any concerns that Trump’s rally may fan racial tensions in Tulsa, Oklahoma Republican Party chairman David McLain said, “I would like to invite all nationalities into the Republican Party. … We are a party of great opportunity for anybody, race, creed or color.”

Black community groups are organizing a Juneteenth ceremony and justice rally for Friday on the grounds of the memorial district. The Rev. Al Sharpton will speak alongside family members of Terence Crutcher, a black motorist killed by Tulsa police in 2017 while unarmed, Sharpton’s publicists said.

Tulsa’s Republican mayor, G.T. Bynum, has formed a commission for marking the 100th anniversary of the massacre next year. Although expressing doubts about calls for reparations to Tulsa’s African Americans, Bynum has supported the search for unmarked burials of victims of the massacre.

Next month, experts plan painstaking examination and excavations of an existing Tulsa cemetery to look for such unmarked graves, said Ellsworth, who teaches African American history at the University of Michigan.

After generations of determined public silence on the massacre — long referred to by white Tulsans dismissively as a race “riot” — black and white Tulsans increasingly are trying to tell the story of Black Wall Street, including its fiery, deadly end.

Teaching about the massacre is being added to state and city school standards, so that this fall third graders will learn about it. Even preschoolers in some districts are being told about Black Wall Street — not about how it ended, but what it was, said Danielle Neves, deputy chief of academics for Tulsa public schools.

“Four-year-olds can understand that people like them once owned movie theaters and hotels and ... had a thriving community,” Neves said.

At the area’s Greenwood Leadership Academy school, classrooms are named after the Dreamland movie theater and other black businesses that white Tulsans burned down, said Kristi Williams, operation manager at the school. Williams’ great aunt fled with her date from one theater when the armed whites came to destroy the black part of town in 1921.

Williams, whose family descended from African Americans enslaved by the Oklahoma-based Muscogee (Creek) Indian nation, emphasizes to pupils the joint power and financial resources that communities like Tulsa’s Black Wall Street once embodied.

“I just always imagine — what would Greenwood look like if the massacre never happened? We had an economy within an economy,” says Williams. “What could have happened? What would we be?”

Chase Mihalek with city of Waco public works fills a barricade with water Tuesday to mark the temporary closure of Lake Shore Drive. The stretch from Mt. Carmel Drive to Bishop Drive will be closed until Friday morning as city crews repair pavement and upgrade street markings, reflectors and street signs. The city has set up temporary detours until then.

City of Waco, local schools seek separate elections in November

Waco wants to hold its own election on Nov. 3, apart from the choice shaping up between President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

McLennan County elections coordinator Kathy Van Wolfe said Tuesday that Mayor Kyle Deaver approached her about the city’s desire to have separate ballots on Election Day — one highlighted by the presidential election, the other featuring city races, including the vote for mayor, as well as contests in the Waco Independent School District and Midway ISD.

Van Wolfe, during a discussion with McLennan County commissioners and an interview with the Tribune-Herald, laid out her concerns about such an arrangement. She said Waco voters might find themselves standing in two lines at the polling places. The additional election workers needed to work separate elections could lead to cramped quarters, not an ideal situation especially if the COVID-19 pandemic remains a health threat.

Too, said Van Wolfe, the city will shoulder the burden of additional costs. She also expressed concern the process would prove confusing to voters.

Commissioners agreed they would welcome a visit by a city representative.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Patricia Miller said she will need a lot of convincing. “I’d like to hear their rationale. I can’t fathom the justification for it,” said Miller, during the commissioners’ live-streamed meeting.

Considering the turmoil associated with COVID-19, which prompted the postponement of elections from May to November, and looming challenges facing those working the hotly contested presidential election, “I don’t know why the county has to be saddled with these complications,” Miller said.

“We would like a city representative to address the court if they want to move forward,” said McLennan County Judge Scott Felton on Tuesday. “Concerns raised by Kathy are significant. I’m not saying they can’t be overcome, but I want to know more about it. The May election got canceled, and efforts were made to hold an election before November, but they didn’t work out.”

Felton said timing is very important, as the county’s elections office is preparing for the July 14 runoff, which includes Texas’ U.S. House District 17. It must navigate the runoff while taking steps to protect voters and election workers from coronavirus spread, and with the general election looming in November.

Source: McLennan County Elections Office

Total voters75,78780,54444,98375.69855,58881,012
Early voting50,35955,14020,20042,85029,02049,020
% Early66.45%68.46%44.91%56.61%52.21%60.51%

Van Wolfe predicted the presidential race will see a huge turnout.

“Normally, school and city elections in May generate a smaller turnout. In the presidential race, we might see 60% turnout,” said Van Wolfe, who deferred comment to Waco representatives when asked about the reason given for preferring a separate election and separate ballot. She theorized the lengthy double-sided ballot may have played a role in the city’s efforts.

“Some races are way down at the bottom,” Van Wolfe said.

Should Waco hold its own election, it will need the county’s help. Waco, Waco ISD and Midway ISD would use the county’s polling places. They would hire election workers and train them to use the rented equipment.

Those factors could hit the three entities in the pocketbook, Van Wolfe said.

She said $165,000 was spent to hold the November 2016 election that included eight entities and McLennan County. Van Wolfe said no entity paid more than $4,816, as the county covered 85.4% of the costs.

“Voters want things simplified,” said Van Wolfe. “In Georgia recently, there were people standing in line three hours. We want to prevent that. What we’re seeing with this is the possibility people will have to stand in two lines. Some voters may walk away, not wanting to stand in line again.”

Also, said Van Wolfe, the county has gone to a system that allows voters to cast ballots at any polling place within the county. No longer are they assigned polling precincts near their homes. But such an arrangement, said Van Wolfe, means county voters must have access to every ballot.

The county’s database, said Van Wolfe, tracks voter history in real time, practically eliminating the possibility a person could vote at multiple locations. She does not know if the city’s system would be compatible.

She said she has not spoken with Midway ISD or Waco ISD representatives, but said Deaver indicated they would join Waco on the ballot.

Deaver could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The Waco City Council had meetings scheduled Tuesday afternoon and evening.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners agreed to allocate $1 million in Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. funds to SpaceX, which plans $10 million in infrastructure improvements at its McGregor testing facility that employs about 500 people. SpaceX also plans to create a permanent exhibit at the Mayborn Museum Complex on University Parks Drive, and to secure office space in Waco for top executives.

SpaceX plans to use the money, in part, to install equipment that would muffle noise created by the frequent testing of rockets.

Waco City Council was scheduled to vote on matching that $1 million.

Projects are not funded without approval from both the Waco City Council and the McLennan County Commissioners Court.

McLennan County reports 18 new cases Tuesday, a new daily record

Eighteen more McLennan County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the highest count of infections reported by the Waco-McLennan County Health District in a single day.

That brings the total number of McLennan County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 to 196, with 130 people having recovered. Four people have died.

Currently, 62 people are sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Four of those people are in the hospital, while a total of 272 people are being monitored by the health district, including those who have tested positive and their close contacts.

Public Health District Director Brenda Gray said Waco and McLennan County never really hit a “peak” in the number of people contracting COVID-19, but that may be happening now as more people continue to leave their homes, more businesses open up at higher capacities and more testing becomes available.

But it is difficult to predict, Gray said. That is the “eventuality of COVID-19” because doctors, scientists and health officials do not yet know enough about the virus and the disease it causes to predict with complete accuracy how the disease will move through the community. Gray added that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, predicted the country would see more people get COVID-19 as states reopen their economies.

Many people have compared the COVID-19 pandemic to the influenza pandemic of 1918, during which the number of people infected reached a peak in spring 1918 but began subsiding in the summer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A second peak hit the U.S. in fall 1918, which resulted in the most deaths during the pandemic that lasted through much of 1919, as well.

Gray said the parallels she has drawn from the 1918 pandemic are that cities and states that enact stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines fared better than the ones that did not limit large gatherings of people or encourage isolating at home. For instance, St. Louis quickly implemented stay-at-home orders, shutting down the city, and saw far fewer deaths than Philadelphia, which took longer to enact similar measures for its residents.

For now, Gray said, it is up to people to protect themselves by wearing a face mask, staying at home when possible and washing their hands until a vaccine is developed. She applauded local leaders for implementing public health safety measures early on, but now the responsibility is on the individual since the state has reopened the economy.

Five of the 18 McLennan County positive cases Tuesday were 19 years old or younger, a category that until now has had a relatively low rate of infection, accounting for about 12 percent of total cases.

Tuesday’s numbers also include:

  • 2 people ages 20-29
  • 1 person ages 30-39
  • 6 people ages 40-49
  • 2 people ages 50-59, and
  • 2 people over 60.

Meanwhile, Baylor University announced Tuesday that three of 59 student-athletes tested for COVID-19 have been confirmed positive. It is unclear whether the athletes are included in Tuesday’s numbers from the health district.

All 59 athletes lived off campus when tested, with one of the athletes showing symptoms and two not experiencing symptoms. A Baylor official said the university will not specify the student-athletes by sport.

The athletes who tested positive have been placed in self-isolation. Contact tracing procedures are being coordinated by public health officials with support provided by the Baylor athletics infection response team following the department’s protective protocol and COVID-19 framework titled “Re-United.”

Since June 10, McLennan County has had 40 cases of COVID-19, the highest seven-day period since records began in mid-March.

Texas reported 2,622 more people had tested positive for COVID-19 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Department of State Health Services website.

Statewide, at least 93,206 people have contracted COVID-19, and 2,029 people have died as a result of the disease. That number includes 651 Bell County residents, 300 Coryell County residents, 40 Limestone County residents, 38 Hill County residents, 18 Falls County residents and seven Bosque County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19. It also includes seven people who have died in Bell County, as well as two people in Coryell County and one person in each Hill County and Limestone County.