With a 500-51 vote, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County has approved a new five-year labor contract with the county that will raise base pay at least 15% percent over the next three years.

The new contract, which was voted on Friday, also includes a $2,000 bonus on the first pay period covered by the new deal. It also takes steps towards increased accountability for deputy misconduct and creates a civilian oversight board.

“We have a historic increase in civilian oversight with this agreement,” Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) stated in a news release Saturday. “We turned the page on the antagonistic relationship that once existed with the [Commissioners] Court and increased wages to respect the tremendous job our men and women in uniform carry out.”

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said Monday he hopes the wage increases will help attract and retain deputies amid staffing shortages, especially at the county jail.

“It helps [deputies] provide for their families a little bit better,” he said, “but also it helps me in that I can cast a wider net and get more qualified applicants in the door. I’m going to be shouting that one from the rooftops.”

Bexar County Commissioners Court likely will ratify the new collective bargaining agreement during its Feb. 8 meeting; all four commissioners and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff expressed support for the new contract in the press release.

The previous contract expired in September 2020.

The new contract removes the arbitration option for deputies to appeal charges of misconduct and/or the degree of punishment. This option previously allowed a third-party arbitrator to determine the facts of a misconduct case and increase or decrease punishment.

“It’s pretty safe to say that this is going to revolutionize the way disciplinary cases are handled within the sheriff’s office,” Salazar said.

Instead of arbitration, appeal hearings regarding misconduct will automatically be heard by a new Civil Service Commission. The commission, which will form no later than July 1, will comprise seven members, according to the county. The sheriff, district attorney, county judge and each county commissioner will appoint one member.

Previously, the commission had three members: one appointed by the sheriff, one by the district attorney and one by the commissioners court.

“Instead of an out-of-state arbitrator that doesn’t live in Bexar County coming in and [having] the ability to overrule discipline, this is actually going to be citizens ruling on whether to overrule discipline or affirm it,” Salazar said.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar responds to questions from County Commissioners in October.
Javier Salazar has been Bexar County Sheriff since 2017. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

While Bexar County sheriff’s deputies will no longer have the arbitration option for appealing disciplinary action, the provision remains in the San Antonio police union’s contract proposal that is currently under negotiation with the City of San Antonio. However, the two sides have agreed to modify the rules of arbitration in an attempt to strengthen the chief’s ability to fire cops for serious misconduct.

The deputy sheriffs’ new contract also establishes the department’s first citizen advisory board to “assure objective administrative review of complaints against deputies,” according to the Bexar County release.

The board — made up of two people appointed by each county commissioner and the county judge, and one non-voting member appointed by the union — will make nonbinding recommendations to the sheriff on discipline or remedial training for “significant administrative cases.”

During negotiations, the union had pushed to grant the citizen board authority to conduct independent investigations, but the contract specifically bans such action.

The board can, however, make policy change recommendations, Salazar said. “I certainly wouldn’t object to that, but as far as making … policy changes, that’s still within [the Sheriff Office’s] purview.”

Internal Affairs, the District Attorney’s Office, and other departments will still conduct investigations, he clarified, but the citizen board will provide an “extra set of eyes.”

The city’s Complaint and Administrative Review Board, made up of seven uniformed officers and seven civilians, has been making recommendations to the chief of police since it was established more than two decades ago.

Police reform activists have criticized SAPD’s board because its recommendations are also nonbinding.

“I’m used to working within that system,” said Salazar, who previously worked for the San Antonio Police Department for 23 years. “I have a lot of faith in that system. … But one of the big things that it hinges upon is adequately training those civilians.”

According to the contract, the selected board members must receive at least 24 hours of training, “including orientation work at [Internal Affairs], and one shift on the ride along program.”

In a prepared statement on the new contract, the union thanked the members of its negotiating team and its members for “their input during the negotiations process and their vote for this important election.”

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