From the scene of the Embassy Suites officer-involved shooting on Tuesday morning April 24, 2018.
The city has expressed interest in using police officer evaluations as a factor for pay raises and promotions. The police union insists that they should not be considered for pay raises. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The city of San Antonio wants its police officers’ performance evaluations to play a role in how they are paid and promoted, officials said Thursday during labor contract negotiations with the police union.

San Antonio Police Officers Association officials said such evaluations should not influence pay increases, which are currently automatic for uniformed employees, but said it’s open to exploring their use in promotions.

Using performance evaluations in this way will increase “transparency and accountability,” Deputy City Manager María Villagómez, who is leading the city’s negotiation team, told the San Antonio Report after the meeting. “I think it makes the employee much more accountable for their actions, and at the same time, it rewards those employees that are exceeding in their performance within the police department.”

But an evaluation that works for a detective may not work for a patrol officer, said Christopher Lutton, who chairs the union’s negotiation committee. “Those are big things that you’d have to take into account. … How are you going to get one performance tool that is broad-spectrum [enough] to cover everybody?”

Supervisors would also need to receive regular training on how to properly evaluate employees, Lutton said.

The two sides butted heads on how long it would take to establish an appropriate evaluation process. Performance evaluations currently are used only to identify training and career development opportunities, according to SAPD’s general manual, and there are no penalties for negative evaluations.

The current evaluations don’t really do anything, Lutton said. “My opinion is [we have them] to check a box on accreditation.”

Establishing a new evaluation process to include promotion considerations could take a very long time, he said. “If we’re going to do it, let’s make sure it’s worthwhile.”

Ron DeLord, the union’s chief negotiator, suggested it could take a year.

“That isn’t going to happen in three weeks or six weeks,” DeLord said, adding that officers will not agree to tie performance evaluations to promotions without knowing exactly how they will be evaluated.

Villagómez said the city’s team estimated it could take about six months to devise new evaluation standards — well beyond the current contract’s expiration date of Sept. 30. Without a new agreement by then, the contract’s evergreen clause would keep most of its terms in place for up to eight years.

It was unclear on Thursday if a subcommittee will be formed to further explore the issue — or if the city will continue to pursue pay increases based on performance reviews. The performance evaluation issue is not among the city’s top priorities in this round of collective bargaining.

Disciplinary reform, specifically the rules around how cops can appeal termination from the force, is at the top of that list — and it’s a topic that hasn’t been discussed in depth since April. The two sides have met 12 times since February, taking a pause during the local general and runoff elections when voters narrowly rejected a measure that would have halted negotiations.

“From our perspective, we could get this done a lot quicker. It’s just taking longer than we think it should take,” Villagómez told the San Antonio Report. “Here we are today, and there’s not even language that they have developed” regarding how much authority an arbitrator has in the appeals process.

The two sides agreed on Monday to extend the negotiation timeline to July 11. The next collective bargaining meeting will take place on July 8, during which health care will be a topic for discussion.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org