San Antonio Police Chief William McManus signaled his support for President-elect John “Danny” Diaz of the San Antonio Police Officers Association on Monday, during a rare show of political solidarity between the law enforcement organization and its members’ union.
Diaz replaces 12-year President Mike Helle, who has repeatedly clashed with McManus and other city officials. Helle announced his retirement last year. Contract negotiations between the City and union, which have been tumultuous in previous years, are expected to start this month.
“We have turned the corner with [Diaz’s] election and we will be working closely together on issues that affect the department and the city, [and] public safety, with a breath of fresh air, coming into a new era, knowing that we will be working together closely with the SAPOA on common goals,” McManus said.
Diaz highlighted the union’s grievances against Fix SAPD, a local group collecting petition signatures from voters that would put the repeal of the local implementation of two state laws related to union operations on the May ballot. If approved, the union could lose its ability to negotiate its labor contract under state law.
“Unfortunately, there’s a group of people trying to divide our city, and they’re doing so by misrepresenting the chief’s statements and lying about the true intentions of their radical anti-police agenda,” Diaz said.
The group’s website features a quote from McManus about arbitration rules under the laws that have allowed dozens of fired officers to get their jobs back: “Good officers don’t need these protections.”
McManus clarified on Monday that he supports the union’s right to collectively bargain.
Disciplinary issues “need to be resolved at the bargaining table,” McManus said, noting that he wanted to correct “maybe a miscommunication or misrepresentation that I made in the beginning [of these discussions] to say that I am not opposed to collective bargaining.”
Diaz also accused Fix SAPD petitioners of being “out-of-state political operatives [who] are funded by dark money special interest groups” and said the union has received reports of signature collectors getting “physically aggressive” with voters and telling them they are from the police department.
Impersonating an officer is a third-degree felony.
SAPD Lt. Jesse Salame addressed Diaz’s allegation in an email.
“Although complaints have been received, to our knowledge, there have not been any police reports that have been made which would warrant a criminal investigation,” Salame wrote.
Fix SAPD organizers, who attended the joint SAPD-SAPOA press conference, dismissed the union’s accusations.
“[Signature gatherers] are not at all saying that we are with SAPD or SAPOA,” said Ananda Tomas, Fix SAPD deputy director. “I believe people are getting confused because the name is Fix SAPD. Sometimes it’s hard to hear through a mask. Sometimes people aren’t listening fully. So that’s where the confusion is happening. … We teach our petitioners to not harass others.”
While the group has been in conversations with out-of-state and national organizations that have similar goals, most of the money raised for Fix SAPD has come from within Texas, Tomas said.
“This is a ballot initiative – democracy at its finest,” she said, adding that the petition only puts repeal on the ballot. “Our goal is to give San Antonio a voice and a choice on repealing these laws. … There is no dark money or sinister characters involved in this.”
The group aims to collect and verify roughly 100,000 signatures from registered voters by mid-February, repealing San Antonio’s adoption of Chapters 143 and 174 of the Texas Local Government Code.
The chapters detail stipulations in hiring, firing, and disciplining police officers, as well as the collective bargaining rights that empower police unions. If repealed, uniformed police could essentially have the same labor rights as non-uniformed City employees if another agreement isn’t reached. Organizers say these laws shield bad cops from accountability while police union representatives say they protect officers from unfair punishment or termination.
Cities across the U.S. are reevaluating their police conduct and disciplinary policies in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, last May.
Meaningful reform could take decades at the bargaining table, said James Dykman, a Fix SAPD board member. During the most recent negotiations more than five years ago, the disciplinary reforms that McManus and the City wanted in the current contract were kicked to the back burner as issues with health care and wages flared up.
“If you’re only getting two or three done, every six years, we’re gonna have this problem for the next 30 years,” Dykman said. “And we can’t have that. This needs to change. We can have a different system other than … collective bargaining.”
The union’s current contract expires on Sept. 30, four months after the May election. Tomas declined to provide the current signature total but said she was confident they would meet the threshold and deliver the petitions to the city clerk’s office this month.