Proposition A, the wide-ranging police reform measure also known as the Justice Charter, went down in flames Saturday night, with a wide margin of voters casting a ballot against the measure.
Opponents began celebrating just minutes after early vote totals posted.
“The defeat of Prop A is a victory for local families, for local businesses and our quality of life,” wrote San Antonio SAFE PAC Co-Chairs Eddie Aldrete and April Ancira in a statement. “San Antonio is one of America’s unique, great cities and today our citizens professed with a loud and unequivocally clear voice we want to keep it that way.”
Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, which gathered more than 38,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, said Saturday night she thought it would be a tighter contest — early vote totals came in with more than 75% against Prop A.
With all 251 vote centers reporting, election day voters had reduced that lead to just under 72%.
But the “grassroots effort” was no match for the police union’s money and political reach, Tomas said. “It’s just big, monied interest and misinformation that’s out there.”
She noted that District Attorney Joe Gonzales won his election while supporting cite and release and declining to prosecute abortion crimes while Mayor Ron Nirenberg and most council members supported a resolution in support of abortion rights.
“We didn’t expect so many of our elected officials who stood strong on cite and release and on abortion to come out [against Prop A],” she said.
Supporters gathered in the backyard of the King William office of the San Antonio Alliance teachers union to watch local coverage of the election. When the camera turned to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who was celebrating his early victory just a few blocks away at the Friendly Spot, the crowd booed.
On the city’s Northwest side, more than 50 people packed into Ajuua Mexican Grill’s patio, many wearing San Antonio Police Officer Association shirts emblazoned with the words “Protect SA.”
Towering over many of the smiling and laughing partygoers, SAPOA President Danny Diaz heartily shook hands with Christopher Lutton, the union board’s parliamentarian. The two were in high spirits as a waitress brought out a round of margaritas and beers for the table behind them.
Diaz told the San Antonio Report that he was nervous going into the election, not sure how voters would feel about Prop A, which sought a change to the city’s charter to decriminalize marijuana and abortion, further restrict police officers’ use of no-knock warrants, ban chokeholds, expand the city’s cite-and-release policy for some low-level, nonviolent crimes and establish a justice director position within the city’s administration.
But the union took no chances, spending almost $2 million to sway voters against the measure with television ads and mailers — more than 10 times what proponents spent.
“We’re proud that the community came together,” Diaz said. “They gave us the opportunity to educate them on what this proposition is actually about … we’re gonna continue to work hard to be out in the community and let them see that we are here to protect them in more ways than one.”
“We’re grateful that that the business community came out and supported us,” he continued. “We’re all one here in San Antonio. This wasn’t a partisan issue. This was a community issue, and it’s great to see everyone working together.”
Though it drew lawsuits from anti-abortion groups soon after it was placed on the ballot in February, the most controversial element of Prop A in recent months was the expansion of cite-and-release, which has drawn the most heated rhetoric about how it would work.
Under Prop A, officers would be prohibited from making arrests for nearly all Class C misdemeanors in addition to some Class B misdemeanors including theft, graffiti and criminal mischief with few exceptions. The current, voluntary cite-and-release program allows officers to use their discretion on whether to issue a citation or arrest a suspect.
Backers of Prop A said there was no evidence crime will increase and that codifying cite and release would ensure its survival beyond the current administration. Expanding the initiative to include more petty crimes, they said, will save money and allow people to avoid jail, which can lead to job loss, family life disruptions and decreased recidivism.
For many in the local police reform movement, Prop A was a second round against the police union.
The 2021 ballot featured Proposition B, a ballot initiative that would have stripped the police union of its ability to collectively bargain with the city for a contract. After a long, divisive and expensive political battle, the measure failed, but far more narrowly than many expected.
Its support by almost 50% of voters showed a substantial appetite to rein in the union’s power and gave city leaders the political cover they needed to make substantial strides in ending the contractual loopholes that allowed fired cops to get their jobs back.
Without a close call this round, it’s unclear how Prop A’s failure may impact future attempts to expand cite and release or implement other police reform measures in the future.
ACT 4 SA’s work isn’t over, Tomas said.
The nonprofit “still has lots of initiatives that we’re pushing around public safety and policing and a lot of our partners are working on criminal justice reform, too,” she said. “It’s about continuing those conversations.”
The ballot initiative at least got people talking, she said. “We’re getting folks engaged in a way that’s going to transform San Antonio.”