Instead of doing his job, Officer Matthew Luckhurst chose to give a homeless man a piece of bread with feces on it. In response, Police Chief McManus did his duty – keeping bad cops off the streets of San Antonio by firing them. But when Luckhurst appealed his termination, it was overturned. Chapter 143 mandates that if punishment doesn’t occur within six months of the incident’s date, the punishment is invalid. Luckhurst was ultimately fired for a separate incident, but all that should have mattered was that, while in uniform, representing our city, he gave a man living on the street a feces sandwich. That should be the end of the conversation. Unfortunately, because of Chapters 174 and 143 of the Texas Local Government Code, it’s not. It’s time to change that.

A recent Bexar Facts poll revealed a rare opportunity to hold bad officers accountable: 6 in 10 San Antonio residents support a measure to repeal laws establishing collective bargaining rights for police and to reform internal police investigations. Fix SAPD is here to bring that change. In line with the sentiments of our city, we are not about defunding the police, taking benefits away from officers, or putting good officers out of work. Our efforts are about police accountability, plain and simple. The whole conversation of defunding misses the key issues of getting bad police officers off our streets, keeping good officers as role models for the community, and cementing lasting reform. To do that, we must vote to repeal Chapters 174 and 143.

San Antonio Report has reported that, “in the past decade, arbitrators have overturned 10 firing decisions by San Antonio’s police chief, who also has reversed many of his own dismissals to avoid arbitration.” Under Chapter 143, fired officers are allowed to appeal to an arbitrator. These arbitrations go beyond determining the facts of the case, often returning officers on the grounds that termination was too harsh a punishment. Officer Lee Rakun, who was reinstated three times before retiring February 1, faced allegations of abusing civilians, domestic violence, and used derogatory slurs against other officers. Every time bad officers like Rakun get their jobs back through arbitration, it normalizes this type of awful behavior. This is the system that is set up under Chapter 143. 

It is true that many officers return to the force not through arbitration, but through settlement agreements decided between the officer and the chief of police. Chief McManus has been clear that the current arbitration system under Chapter 143 forces his hand to settle if he wants to adequately discipline bad officers. Not only that, he wants to avoid wasting city resources. Huge amounts of taxpayer money is spent to represent both the police chief and the fired officer. Arbitrators who give bad officers their jobs back are also forced under Chapter 143 to make taxpayers foot the bill for the officer’s back pay for the hours spent appealing their termination. This is simple. To ensure the police chief can manage his team in the ways he sees fit and ensure the safety of good officers, Chapter 143 must be repealed.

Some have called for renegotiations of the police union’s collective bargaining agreement, but the system in which the agreement is negotiated is critically flawed and imbalanced under Chapter 174. Take Dallas for example. They don’t have collective bargaining to create a contract, and they have more officers with better pay and shorter promotion times than San Antonio. More infuriating is that many of the flaws of Chapter 143 could be removed using the agreement, but the president of the police association, Mike Helle, has been clear he doesn’t want to touch that. “Because you’re incompetent and you failed to investigate properly and you keep losing because of your incompetence, [you] now want me to dumb it down so you win? Nobody will agree to that,” he said. Well, a majority of San Antonio residents agree with us that something needs to be done. We need to repeal Chapter 174.

We are fortunate that our city recognizes that to truly “Back the Blue” means to listen when the police chief says that, “consequences have to be clear and they have to be final … State laws and articles of collective bargaining agreements that deal with discipline actually contribute to misconduct. Good officers don’t need that protection, they don’t need that advantage.” We can’t squander this opportunity. We will face this issue head-on, armed with the facts and stories of living under these laws until this is on the May 2021 ballot. To negotiate a balanced contract, we must repeal Chapter 174. To bring accountability to the police force, we must repeal Chapter 143. We encourage our fellow San Antonians to visit the Fix SAPD website to find out how they too can support our petition initiative to repeal these chapters and protect their fellow citizens and officers.

James Dykman is a member of FixSAPD, a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to increasing police accountability in San Antonio, Texas. James created FixSAPD’s comprehensive database on SAPD...