Contract teams for the City of San Antonio and police union inched closer to an agreement Thursday on rules related to how officers appeal termination decisions.
“We’re clearly narrowing the gap,” said union attorney Craig Deats.
The union’s latest proposal, however, fails to give enough weight to the police chief’s decision to fire an officer and shifts too much of the burden of proof onto the city, said Liz Provencio, first assistant city attorney.
The city’s top priority in these negotiations is narrowing the authority that arbitrators have that allows them to overturn the chief’s decision to fire an officer.
Under the proposal — which borrows heavily from a contract between the city of Bloomington, Illinois, and its police union — the union agrees the chief’s decision to suspend an officer can’t be overturned unless it’s found to be arbitrary, unreasonable, or if the misconduct the officer was found to have committed is unrelated to their ability to serve.
To uphold an indefinite suspension, which essentially means termination, a “substantial shortcoming of the officer” must be proved. That means the officer’s misconduct 1) harmed the department and 2) it is obvious that the community — “sound public opinion” — wouldn’t want them on the force.
The city’s most recent version of that section included “or” instead of “and,” arguing that only one of those elements should need to be proved.
The union wants the city to have to prove that shortcoming, not the officer.
But it “doesn’t make sense” to double the burden of proof on the city, Provencio said. Under the city’s proposal, the chief’s decision is given deference and the “officer has the ability to come back and say: ‘these are the reasons why that discipline shouldn’t be imposed or lessened.’”
That allows for officers to “effectively have a check on chief’s discretion,” she said.
If the burden is on the officer to prove they do not have a “substantial shortcoming,” Deats said, that means they’ll have to “prove a negative.”
Ultimately, Deats dismissed Provencio’s interpretation of the union’s arbitration proposal.
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Deats said. “Substantively, we’ve come a long ways, I think we’re close.”
Provencio committed to continue her review of the union’s proposal further before the two sides are slated to meet on Aug. 20.
The city has already agreed to use a “preponderance” standard, meaning more likely than not, when proving misconduct to an arbitrator — a higher standard than the city previously proposed.
The two sides agreed to a 45-day extension of the negotiation period that would have expired on Monday. Several other major components of the contract, including health care and wages, are still on the table.
If a new contract isn’t ratified by union membership and the City Council before the current one expires at the end of September, a clause in the current contract keeps most of its terms in place — excluding some pay increases — for another eight years.