On Sept. 1, 2016, my City Council colleagues and I have a critical, far-reaching and necessary decision to make. I urge them to vote with me to approve the mediated settlement with the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association (SAPOA), and I want to explain to you why I believe so strongly that this is the path towards progress for San Antonio.
A yes vote means we will finally end a two-year-long contract dispute; a yes vote means our officers will get the pay raise and fair compensation package they deserve; a yes vote means their health care plans are more affordable for the City; a yes vote means we will be able to keep public safety spending at less than 66% of the City’s General Fund for at least three years; a yes vote means our court battle is over. And, most importantly, a yes vote means we can come together to work collaboratively to improve police-community relations.
I know and have listened to the concerns that this contract does not satisfy every demand made by officers, taxpayers, or activists. I agree. This mediated settlement truly is a negotiated contract with all sides making concessions. However, at times like these, when more and more news programs nationwide begin with officer-involved shootings, we have to be willing to leave our entrenched positions and move forward. If not, we risk irreparable damage to the ties that bind us together as one San Antonio.
As a black American, a mother, and a lifelong resident of inner city neighborhoods, I know what it’s like to feel anxious when passing a police car on the street. I know what it feels like to not be completely at ease when an officer approaches. But I also know what it’s like to call 911 in a panic in the middle of the night when a stranger shows up in your backyard and breaks into your car.
I am deeply grateful for the service of the officers in our police department, and I am committed to helping them uphold the highest standards of transparency and accountability. The San Antonio Police Department is not our enemy. They are everyday men and women who chose a difficult path, to serve and protect San Antonians from all walks of life, in all corners of our city.
Our officers deserve proper compensation just as much as we as citizens deserve to feel that our police force is transparent, accountable, and held to disciplinary standards.
During the past few weeks, critics have focused on a few isolated points within the collective bargaining agreement and characterized them as “police reform.” However, we all know that reform and improvement are much more comprehensive than just a few specific disciplinary issues.
In fact, we have already accomplished quite a bit through our body camera rollout, specialized police response teams for homelessness and mental health, and our involvement in 21st century policing and training reforms.
However, we must be even more focused on strengthening our relationships with police and the community. To that end, once we move past the successful contract ratification, I will be appointing a community-based committee to address specific issues through a five-point strategic plan that will address improvements in:
- How we collaborate with the community;
- How we communicate within and among City departments and the community regarding policing and public safety;
- Our recruitment targets and processes;
- Initial and ongoing training for our officers; and
- Timeline and approach to goal-setting and implementation that is transparent and encourages accountability.
Key topics for the committee will include supporting broader dialogue and inclusion so that we change the perception of who the department’s stakeholders are, better understanding of what training opportunities our rank-and-file would like to see more of – such as self-care – and how we can broaden recruitment to target specific diverse groups that are under-represented currently, such as foreign-language speakers. Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) leads our Council’s Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services committee, which will be an integral part of these discussions.
Additionally, and within the next several months, I will report back on opportunities for relief from the Texas Legislature that should be considered for inclusion in our 2017 legislative agenda. Some of the constrictions we are facing are dictated by state law, not just by our collective bargaining, and we are not the only Texas city that would benefit from action at a state level.
In short, I am committed to aggressively addressing these issues in a fashion that is tailored to our specific needs in San Antonio. While we all may be frustrated by stories we see on the national news, our job is to work to make things better right here in the community we all love. I think there are solutions out there and I want us to move past rhetoric and political grandstanding and get to work. I believe our San Antonio police officers share this goal and are ready to assist.
Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor listens to questions from reporters regarding national violence against citizens and police officers on July 8, 2016. File photo by Scott Ball.