The City’s Firefighters and Police Officers’ Civil Service Commission is changing rules for police academy applicants, giving a second chance to those who might otherwise have been disqualified for certain offenses committed in years past.

Because the commission operates independently, neither City Council nor its Public Safety Committee have to approve rule changes. But some committee members questioned Thursday whether these changes to the application process are necessary.

The revisions give the police chief more freedom in the hiring process, particularly when it comes to “youthful indiscretions made at 14, 15 or 16 years old,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus explained. The previous entrance policy automatically eliminated otherwise qualified applicants, he said.

“These are the sole reasons why these changes are being made,” he said. There’s no challenge in attracting qualified prospects, McManus added, citing 2,500 police training academy applicants since May 2018.

“If we have enough people who are applying, and if they’re meeting the standards we have now, why take a chance on someone else?” Councilman John Courage (D9) asked. McManus said his goal is to “put the most qualified people into the academy.”

“This doesn’t guarantee them getting into the police department, it just gets them into the process,” he added.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) agreed with Courage: “If we don’t have a staffing problem, why change the standards if we’re doing well with what we have? I just don’t see the need to adjust the standards.”

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6)
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Another reason for the rule changes, according to McManus and Capt. Brian Reyes, the police academy commander, is to get the San Antonio Police Department’s application policies more in line with those in other major Texas cities, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the FBI.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said he understood the idea of giving certain aspiring police officers a second chance and changing the entrance policy for the sake of consistency with other law enforcement agencies, but shared his colleagues’ sentiments that the public could perceive the rule change as lowering admission standards.

“If we don’t have a problem bringing cadets into our training academy, and we’re keeping up with demand … why are we making this change?” Perry asked.

“Because it’s fair to individuals,” McManus said.

Reyes cited examples of recent applicants who would have been subject to disqualification under the old standards: One military veteran with previous law enforcement training and an exemplary military record had admitted using inhalants as a teenager, while another, also with exemplary military service, admitted to possessing controlled substances as a teen but was not convicted for the offense.

McManus mentioned a woman who recently was eliminated from the process after disclosing that she slapped her fiancé when he admitted to an affair. Charges were never filed against the woman.

The rule changes give the police chief greater flexibility in considering the applicant’s age at the time of an offenses, dates and patterns of past behavior, and additional polygraph results.

After Brockhouse said he would like the police department’s psychologist to provide feedback on the issue, Reyes noted that the psychologist is part of the admissions process.

“Not everybody is going to agree with a change – we understand that. But I think this change is for the better,” McManus said.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.