Bexar County sheriff’s deputies should be required to wear body cameras and those who shut them off could be fired, Bexar County commissioners unanimously decided Thursday as they laid out priorities for negotiations with the deputies’ union.
Sheriff Javier Salazar voiced his support for the resolution and said that the sheriff’s office has been taking public input on the current deputy sheriff’s union contract through his website. His office has already received 200 emails, he said.
“I’m very confident that when all is said and done, we’ve been listening to the community,” Salazar said. “We’ve been very much in tune with what’s been said, and I’m very confident, wherever we land, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office will be on the right side of history.”
The contract negotiation discussions come on the heels of protests against racism and police brutality that were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May. Several community organizers spoke at Thursday’s meeting on the resolution. Some thanked the commissioners for supporting reforms such as creating a registry of fired law enforcement officers that includes the reasons for their terminations. But they also pushed for more.
“As community leaders, we would like to be a part of that table,” said Jourdyn Parks, an activist and a founder of Reliable Revolutionaries. “By not including a group of community leaders at that table, you put the [collective-bargaining agreement] and the negotiations back into the hands of the very people that are protecting against the flaws that are currently in place. … We would just like to know what that looks like to get at that negotiating table.”
Though fellow Reliable Revolutionaries founder Pharaoh Clark said the resolution puts the County on the right path, he pointed to more issues that he said still need to be addressed, such as the high number of people with mental health issues incarcerated at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center. Many police officers are not equipped to deal with mental health problems, Clark said.
“We need to make sure we budget to put a place for our mental health patients to be, so they’re not running into police officers on a daily basis,” Clark said.
Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) said the document merely served as a starting point for collective bargaining discussions and a way to show the commissioners’ priorities.
“We need to give our staff guidance on the principles we believe are important to this collective bargaining contract,” he said. “Is it all-inclusive? No. … There’s no way in one document we can be inclusive of every single reform, but it’s important to at least move forward, give guidance on what this court believes are priorities for that, protecting our community, and making policing better in this community.”
Rodriguez assured the community members that they would all be able to be part of the collective bargaining process in some capacity.
“We will not move forward without community input,” he said. “Let me assure you of that. But, again, I know that the communication has to be ongoing. It can’t be one-sided, and I want you to know you have our commitment that you’ll be part of this process.”
Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3), who helped draft the resolution with Rodriguez, said one of the big points he felt was important to include was negotiating the removal of “protectionist” clauses. Government employees are covered by civil service legislation, Wolff said, which means they can appeal actions like termination and demotion. But law enforcement workers have extra coverage thanks to the collective bargaining agreement.
“As a deputy, you not only get that civil service protection, you also get the additional protection in whatever was bargained in the collective bargaining agreement,” he said. “That’s a specific power we have in regards to what collective bargaining agreement we agree to. Our direction to staff was to remove those additional protections and ratchet it back to traditional civil service.”
Those protections are broad, Wolff said – they could include how and why officers get fired, how they get rehired, and even how mediation processes work.
The collective bargaining negotiation period with the deputy sheriff’s union is only in the preliminary stages, Salazar said. The next meeting is scheduled for Friday.
“This is a long process,” Rodriguez said. “We anticipate having community input and we reiterated that today, but we had to give staff a starting point on where we stood on these major issues.”