City Council approved a long-awaited, five year contract with the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) Thursday morning, a contract that a number of community members – namely those involved in the #BlackLivesMatter movement – believe will only further divide law enforcement and the communities of color since it lacks accountability measures for officers with prior offenses.
To address those concerns and strengthen the relationship between police and the community, Mayor Ivy Taylor will assemble a police-community relations committee made up of city leaders, members of the police union, and activists.
But another aspect of moving forward and ensuring safety for both officers and civilians is making sure we maintain diversity within local law enforcement, Taylor told a group of more than 50 men and women interested in joining local and state law enforcement Saturday at the Carver Community Cultural Center.
Fatal police-involved shootings have occurred across the nation and the city, she said, and in San Antonio “there certainly is important work that we need to tend to” in order to “write our own story in relation to this issue.
“For San Antonio, writing our own story starts with who we are,” Taylor said. “We are a majority minority city, with Hispanics making up most of our population here, followed by whites, blacks, and other ethnicities, (so) the makeup of our police department should reflect that community. ”
Representatives from the San Antonio Police Department, Fire Department, and the United States Border Patrol were on hand at the recruitment event to field questions about how to apply for their prospective organizations and to encourage attendees to take on a life of law enforcement.
The strained police-community relations throughout the country and in San Antonio have led to hardships, said Police Chief William McManus, but now is an opportunity to mend those relationships with a more diverse department.
“Although you may have seen otherwise … in my opinion, there’s never been a better time to get into law enforcement,” he said.
Fire Chief Charles Hood, San Antonio’s first black fire chief, also was present to advocate for law enforcement careers. He encouraged attendees to keep their heads up during the application process, which often can be long. It’s not unusual when a person has to apply more than once to each of the law enforcement agencies.
“For those of you that are out there and you’ve tested before – test again,” Hood said. “Do not be afraid to be successful. You have it in you, but sometimes we are scared to take that walk of faith, that leap, because we don’t know what’s out there. Success is out there.”
The San Antonio Police Department hosts the diversity recruitment event annually, typically at the Carver Center, as well as other recruitment and training events throughout the city, said SAPD Officer Yvonne Padilla. In the face of criticism and concern from community members, finding ways to better interact with and protect San Antonio residents is one of SAPD’s priorities.
“We need to be a reflection of our community, so (diversity) is very important,” Padilla said. “We need to create balance between the community and the department.”
The widespread activism concerning incidences of cops fatally shooting people of color, and vice versa, only makes efforts and events like Saturday’s more necessary, Taylor said.
“I know that this is a very serious issue that’s generated a lot of public dialogue but I believe there are a lot of things that we can do to be proactive to try and minimize or eliminate these incidences,” she said, “and today’s event is an example of one of the things we can do proactively to plan for what the face of law enforcement looks like for the long-term.”
Top image: (right to left) SAFD Chief Charles Hood, SAPD Chief William McManus, and Mayor Ivy Taylor stand during the National Anthem. Photo by Scott Ball.