Fifty-one cadets sat with backs straight and uniforms crisp as they began Day One at the San Antonio Police Department Training Academy on Monday afternoon. They listened with rapt attention as their instructor dove into the basics of San Antonio’s city government structure: Police Chief William McManus is their boss and City Manager Sheryl Sculley is his boss. City Council is her boss, but the day-to-day operations of the city are under her domain.
Once most of these cadets graduate in 33 weeks, they will likely become acutely aware of council-manager form of government, especially if the police union’s contract with the City is still unresolved. Police and firefighter unions continue to wage a campaign against Sculley and Mayor Ivy Taylor – from attacking Sculley’s compensation package to rallying members and neighbors to oppose the Vista Ridge water pipeline.
Until a new agreement is reached, police and firefighters will not receive wage increases, but they and many family members will continue to enjoy premium-free health benefits from the City as the last contract remains in effect due to a 10-year evergreen clause. A clause that the City has challenged in court and remains in the appeal process.
“It’s a difficult time in law enforcement,” McManus said. Other cities have problems finding recruits, “but we haven’t had that issue here in San Antonio.”
Regardless of the political turmoil, the San Antonio Police Academy attracted 316 applicants for its second class this year.
“We haven’t seen a shortage of applicants … I don’t think (the contract negotiations or lawsuit) really has any impact at all and in fact the benefits that are included in the collective bargaining agreement (in evergreen), no other department has in the state,” Sculley said to reporters gathered outside the front door of the academy. “What we’re trying to do through our negotiations is really bring our contracts in line with other cities.”
On average, a 20-year SAPD officer received $124,668 annual compensation package, according to City documents. That number includes base wages, special pay and benefits.
But the hastily called press announcement for the cadets’ first day seems to be the latest round in the now-stalled, contract negotiations that started about two years ago. Both sides refuse to budge over the lawsuit.
San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle could not be reached for comment Monday evening, but he has repeatedly said that negotiations were scaring off potential recruits.
“Nobody wants to come and work in this hostile environment,” Helle said in March. He anticipated that the number of vacancies would increase if a new contract wasn’t signed soon.
Last year the City canceled cadet classes to save money to pay for the ballooning health insurance costs of its uniformed personnel.
“The choice was to keep and hold vacancies … instead of making more cuts in the budget,” Sculley said. “The Council decided not to cut street maintenance, park maintenance, libraries and senior centers and instead held those vacancies.”
The City has funded all 2,385 positions in SAPD, but on average the department maintains 50-70 vacancies per year. Sculley said when this year’s cadets become officers, SAPD will be within or below that historic vacancy rate by the end of 2016 despite a higher than normal retirement rate this year.
Out of the 51 cadets that started Monday there are 42 men, nine women, 31 are hispanic, 18 are white, and two are African-American, McManus said. They will undergo academics, physical training, and skills training during their 33-week training.
“The skills that they learn in this academy will prepare them for everything that they come across on the street,” he said.
More information about the application process and academy can be found online at www.sapdcareers.com.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard Report archive here.
Top image: San Antonio Police Academy Cadets sit in a classroom during their first day of training. Photo by Scott Ball.