Police accountability affects our entire community and it will take our entire community to get it right. While Fix SAPD works on police accountability at a grassroots level, our elected officials at City Hall (whose support has been symbolic at best) need to do their part, regardless of whether they receive money from the local police union, the San Antonio Police Officers’ Association (SAPOA), and regardless of whether they’re up for reelection in 2021.
Less than one-half of San Antonio approves of the job City Council is doing, according to a recent Bexar Facts Poll. Reelection shouldn’t be a non-starter when it’s already known that the police union will be backing candidates for election next year. If it’s inevitable, why not stand for something that 65 percent of San Antonians support?
There are fewer than sixty days before negotiations on a new contract start, yet we still don’t know what City Hall is going to be fighting for. Fix SAPD will continue our efforts to ensure permanent reform by repealing Chapters 143 and 174, but until we achieve that goal, there are other steps that must be taken by City Hall. We urge City Council to pass a resolution supporting the removal of key barriers to accountability that must be addressed in the next collective bargaining negotiations with SAPOA.
Fix SAPD has identified 10 key barriers to accountability in the police union contract and Chapter 143 that, if removed, would create a more fair and balanced system of accountability between the City and SAPOA. If City Hall cannot take action on these items, then we have all the more reason to continue fighting for the repeal of Chapters 174 and 143.
- Eliminate the provision that permits a reversal of disciplinary actions through arbitration (CBA Art. 28.1, 28.5-11,15,18 ; Chapter 143.1016, 143.129). Currently, officers may appeal disciplinary action up to an arbitrator, who is allowed to overthrow the police chief’s disciplinary decisions, regardless of the facts of the case. This leads to situations in which officers are returned to the force simply because the arbitrator decided that the officer was just having a bad day. This undermines the rule of law.
- Eliminate the provisions that provide the accused officer access to evidence before speaking to investigators (CBA Art. 29.2 (C) ; Chapter 143.312 (g)). During the 48-hour window before they speak to investigators, officers are allowed to review every piece of evidence, including audio, video, and written testimony, that’s been presented against them. As Chief McManus has so succinctly stated,” Where does that ever happen?”
- Eliminate time limitations on when investigators can conduct investigations into wrongdoing (CBA Art. 28.19, 28.22 ; Chapter 143.117 (d)). Police administrators have six months to administer discipline against an accused officer. In criminal cases, the clock starts when authorities become aware of the wrongdoing. In civil matters, administrators can only act within 180 days of when the incident took place.
- Eliminate the statute of limitations that prevents the inclusion of officer’s disciplinary records during investigations (CBA Art. 28.19 (A-E)). When presenting their case to arbitrators, police administrators are not allowed to introduce any evidence of acts that have occurred before the 180-day window.
- Eliminate the provisions that permit delayed interviews of accused officers (CBA Art. 29.2(C) ; 143.312 (g)). Today, whenever an officer is accused of misconduct, Internal Affairs must give the accused officer 48-hour notice before any interview or interrogation takes place. No one else reading this would be given advance notice of two days to prepare for an interview with local law enforcement. These extra measures subvert efforts toward accountability.
- Eliminate the provisions that reveal the names of the accusers to the police officers charged with wrongdoing (CBA Art. 29.2 (C)) ; 143.312 (f)). This endangers fellow officers and citizens who are subject to retaliation by accused officers.
- Prevent officers from using the discretionary time (holiday, vacation, or bonus days) to pay themselves while on unpaid suspension. (CBA Art. 28.18). Officers should not be rewarded for misconduct. It gives discipline no impact on officers who commit misconduct and costs the city hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
- Eliminate the restrictive personnel file and disciplinary records release provisions that limits civilian oversight. (CBA Art. 29.3 (F-G) ; Chapter 143.1214, 143.089 (g)). Currently, the Complaint & Administrative Review Board is made up of civilians and officers selected from a list of names provided by the city manager. The committee purportedly oversees citizens’ complaints against police, but its disciplinary recommendations are “advisory only” and non-binding and their access to officer personnel files is limited.
- Eliminate the provisions that permit the city to be charged for certain costs following an officer’s misconduct. (CBA Art. 28.18, 36). Costs can include paid leave while under investigation, legal fees, and settlements.
- Reduce the “Evergreen Clause” to 6 months (CBA Art.1). Currently, this clause allows for the previous contract to be enacted for up to 8 years if SAPOA doesn’t want to negotiate with the terms the city is presenting. This allows them to hold out for more favorable city leaders to be elected or appointed so they don’t have to address city concerns.
Furthermore, the contract negotiations between the City of San Antonio and SAPOA must be transparent. This includes livestreaming negotiations and making sure those videos are posted online for the public to view later. A process must be created for citizens to give their feedback to their city council members in real-time so their concerns are heard.
You can send your city council member a resolution with these points by going to our website here.
Repealing these laws on a local level is a key step in creating police accountability in San Antonio. However, because current and future police reform initiatives can only be successful if there are clear and final consequences for misconduct, we are pushing state legislators to create a foundation of accountability by removing the barriers to accountability mentioned above. Falling short of addressing accountability issues will leave police reform legislation unenforceable.
Despite what talking heads would have you think, Fix SAPD’s efforts to reform police accountability are democracy in action. Many times now, we have seen well-meaning police reform actions struck down by the influence of cash-swollen police unions or inept city leaders. What legislatures and city council members have been unable to do, San Antonio voters will have a chance to achieve locally by a referendum vote. It is as simple as voting yes for accountability. Until that can happen, City Hall has an obligation to stand strong during these negotiations and push for the removal of the above barriers to accountability. No one wants bad cops on the force. Bad police officers are a threat to everyone, including good police officers, and cannot be exempt from responsibility for their actions.
Oji Martin is a member of the San Antonio Report’s Board of Community Advisors.