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No one is indispensable, but it won’t be easy replacing William McManus as San Antonio’s police chief. That said, I happen to believe one strong candidate to succeed him already is working in San Antonio: Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, a retired U.S. Air Force major general. More on that down the page.
McManus, a 40-year law enforcement veteran, will have held the post for more than 8 1/2 years by the time he steps down at the end of the year, making him one of the longest-serving chiefs in the country, a testament to his standing in San Antonio. He’s staying in San Antonio to become the senior security executive at CPS Energy, a new position that reflects CEO Doyle Beneby’s growing concern over the vulnerability of the nation’s energy grid. It will be a challenging job for McManus, but one that offers a far more ordered life than the one experienced by a police chief.
The new job might not be 9 to 5, but it won’t be 24/7, either. For a police chief who took pride in wearing the uniform and showing up at crime scenes, the prospect of sleeping through most nights and enjoying weekends must sound pretty good at this juncture in life.
His job hasn’t been made any easier by the tense standoff between the police union and City staff after collective bargaining talks broke down in June over proposed changes and cuts to the union’s rich health care benefits program. Police chiefs don’t typically get directly involved in contract negotiations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience the resulting turbulence. That might have influenced the timing of his departure, but it isn’t why he is leaving.
McManus, 62 years old, has been wearing a police uniform for four decades. He previously served as police chief in Minneapolis and in Dayton, and assistant chief in Washington, D.C. Like many who have come to San Antonio for a professional opportunity, McManus and his wife came to love the city and want to raise their children here. The days of entertaining the next big police chief job in the next big city are behind him.
McManus, by any measure, has been an unqualified success as police chief, the strongest law enforcement leader by far in the 25 years I’ve lived and worked in San Antonio. That’s my personal opinion, of course, but it’s one informed by years of experience. McManus has enjoyed good relations with the rank and file and at City Hall, and he has moved easily through the community, whether he was walking Eastside and Westside streets, promoting community policing, or moving among the city’s business and civic elite at a charity gala.
As often as not, he showed up in uniform, and in a city that struggles with an obesity epidemic that extends into the police ranks, he is a model of physical fitness. He’s also been a model of ethical comportment. He didn’t win every legal fight with fired and demoted union members, but he did impose elevated standards of behavior on the force. When officers didn’t live up to those standards, he moved swiftly to remove them from the department. Bad cops get dealt with now, and good cops get celebrated and recognized.
Put another way, McManus professionalized the police culture in San Antonio. It might be his biggest achievement, although it could be argued that the good relations he fostered in the inner city with the civilian population was equally notable. San Antonio is an imperfect city with its own challenges and problems, but race and ethnic relations are as good or better here than can be found in any other major U.S. city. McManus’ leadership as police chief had something to do with that.
One physical manifestation of the change under McManus is the $89 million Public Safety Headquarters that opened on West Nueva Street and South Santa Rosa Avenue in 2012. The secure, six-story building that houses both the police and firefighters headquarters presents an entirely different, more modern image of the city’s police and fire departments. The drab, outdated headquarters building one block away was demolished to make way for the still-unfunded new federal courthouse.
Raising the professional standards of the police department was an early priority for City Manager Sheryl Sculley in what has become her own decade-long tenure here, part of an ambitious strategy to elevate management performance across all uniform and civilian departments. McManus was one of the strongest leaders recruited to San Antonio by Sculley, as she said in a statement this week.
“Bill has been an outstanding police chief, he’s accomplished so much,” Sculley said. “The San Antonio Police Department is better managed, more professional, and has better trained police officers than ever in its history, thanks to Bill’s integrity and leadership. Chief McManus has developed an exceptionally positive relationship with the community at-large and is respected by one and all in San Antonio and Texas.
“He was one of my strongest hires,” Sculley said, “but the time is right for him in life right now to make this move. He has earned his retirement. We will miss him, but we are happy Bill and his family are staying in San Antonio.”
The news that he is leaving the department poses a challenge for Sculley and her team at a time when Mayor Julián Castro is packing his bags for a Cabinet post in the Obama administration, City Council is days away from electing an interim mayor, and the Council itself soon will have one or more new names and faces.
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Who will replace McManus? The police union would like an internal candidate to be promoted, someone with a local track record and established relationships inside the department. The City presumably will hire an executive search firm and conduct a national search. There is one credible candidate for the job wearing a different law enforcement uniform in San Antonio. Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau is a retired two-star Air Force general who has received high marks for her management of the department and the Bexar County Jail.
Many senior military officers have left their mark in public and private sector careers in San Antonio after their retirement from the military. Pamerleau is a fiscal conservative and a strong manager and leader. She will have served for two years as the county’s first female sheriff by the time McManus exits in December.
San Antonio wouldn’t be the first major U.S. city to elevate a woman to the top law enforcement job, but it would certainly burnish the city’s growing national image to make such a progressive move. Portland was the first city to appoint a female police chief in 1985. Atlanta was the first city to make an African-American woman its police chief. Washington, D.C.’s dynamic female police chief, Cathy Lanier, once worked under McManus. San Antonio could become the first U.S. city to appoint a female retired military general as police chief.
Some will say she lacks experience as a cop and police administrator. I’d counter that she’s a proven leader, and any woman who can brave the military culture to rise to the rank of major general has the capability to learn, adapt and excel. Of course, Pamerleau might not necessarily consider it a promotion. Let the speculation begin, and let’s not forget to give McManus a sendoff in December that expresses the city’s appreciation for his strong service.