The San Antonio Police Department has further clarified its policies regarding the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants: Both are prohibited, Police Chief William McManus told a City Council committee on Friday.

Department policy still includes a caveat that an officer can use any tactic necessary to protect human life, including chokeholds or a variation called lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR), but has made the language “cleaner to emphasize that LVNR is prohibited,” McManus said. Chokeholds have been banned since 2014.

“Our policy formally said LVNR is prohibited unless deadly force would be authorized,” McManus told reporters after the Council meeting. “Now it simply says LVNR is prohibited.” SAPD’s use-of-force policy also states if an officer’s life or another’s is in danger, he or she can act use deadly force, he said.

Search and arrest warrants are not executed without police officers announcing their presence, he said. SAPD’s ban on no-knock warrants started in June. No-knock warrants are simply too dangerous for police and the community, but if someone is at risk inside a building, that becomes a different situation – outside of serving a warrant, he said. “We’re going to go through the door to try to prevent someone from losing their life.”

These same situational caveats were presented on Aug. 25 to the Public Safety Committee, which met them with criticism. On Friday, however, all committee members seemed satisfied that the use-of-force clarifications made were satisfactory.

Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), who requested a complete, no-exceptions ban of the practices, celebrated the new policy.

“Thank you for taking the action to make sure that we are enforcing everything we can not only to keep our community safe but to keep our police officers safe,” Andrews-Sullivan said. “We know that [with] no-knock warrants, we’re not only putting one life in jeopardy, but we’re putting several in jeopardy.”

Cities across the U.S. are re-evaluating police use-of-force policies in response to demands by the Black Lives Matter movement and national 8 Can’t Wait campaign in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. No-knock warrants have been scrutinized following the death of Breonna Taylor after Louisville police officers stormed into her apartment unannounced, triggering a gun battle that left her dead.

It’s unclear if the changes made to the department’s policies will satisfy 8 Can’t Wait campaign, which reviews police department policies and points out deficiencies such as departments that don’t clearly prohibit chokeholds or don’t require officers to use de-escalation tactics before use of deadly force. SAPD has submitted revised language regarding four policies to 8 Can’t Wait that aim to improve its report card, though McManus has said its policies already met the spirit of what the campaign is calling for.

This chart compares how San Antonio and other Texas cites measure up to 8 Can't Wait police reforms. The yellow checks indicate SAPD policies that are under review by the campaign.
This chart compares how San Antonio and other Texas cites measure up to 8 Can’t Wait police reforms. The yellow checks indicate SAPD policies that are under review by the campaign. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

“You can’t put a policy in place that absolutely prohibits an officer from taking whatever steps are necessary to save someone’s life, including their own,” McManus said, noting that there is State and case law that reinforces that. “We have gone right to the line. … I don’t know if that particular [LVNR] policy can be amended any more to make it to [8 Can’t Wait’s] liking”

McManus also issued a special order last week that adjusts how officers respond to calls involving people who may be mentally ill.

Instead of approaching that person first, McManus is directing officers to contact the person who made the call or anyone else who can give the responding officer more context for the situation “so that we don’t confront that [mentally ill] person cold … and it ends up with someone losing their life.”

The order also allows officers time to contact the SAPD Mental Health Unit, Crisis Intervention Team, social workers outside the department, or other resources, he said.

Damian Lamar Daniels, a Black veteran, was killed by a sheriff’s deputy on Aug. 25 after he and his family made multiple calls asking for mental health assistance.

This special order was “not specifically” a result of Daniels’ death, McManus said. “It’s a result of seeing what goes on around the country during mental health calls.” 

The protocol states that officers responding to a mental health call should not approach the person in crisis unless they initiate contact or the situation is life-threatening. Instead, officers can interview relatives, friends, neighbors, or others who can provide useful information.

The no-knock warrant and mental health special orders will soon be made official in SAPD’s policy book once they are properly vetted and worded, he said.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...