In any war of attrition, the belligerent force attacks and attacks, hoping to wear down the opposing force with relentless conflict. Even small-scale violence exacts its toll. With time, the stronger force will prevail, the weaker one capitulating, outgunned and no longer able to withstand relentless assault.
The San Antonio police union’s intensifying attacks against its own leader, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, seem intended to topple him, even though such tactics have failed to dislodge City Manager Sheryl Sculley after two long years. What must people visiting here think? The leaders in a city that attracts millions for its ambiante familiar, its welcoming culture, are under attack by some of the very people sworn to keep the peace.
The San Antonio Police Officers Association issued an unusual, 12-page indictment of McManus and Sculley on Tuesday titled “SAPOA No Confidence Vote_After Action Report.” The document recounts the lop-sided results of the union vote held March 14-23 in which 1,944 of the 2,164 members, or 90% of the rank and file, voted by a margin of 97-3% no confidence in McManus. That’s old news now, but the report brings it back for another day and another headline.
The report borders on hysteria. Turning to red ink where black ink on white paper will not do, union officials assert the vote was demanded by union members, conducted independently by a third-party professional, and carried out without strong-arm tactics or coercion. Voluntary turnout was overwhelming. And, the union leadership asserts in red, “This is NOT about contract negotiations.”
It’s the same red ink splashed all over the home page of its propaganda website, Public Safety Facts. The election’s results offer the kind of numbers usually reported in places like North Korea, Syria or Iran, or maybe Venezuela and Nicaragua. Some of the same talking points about turnout and the will of the masses rings familiar, too.
What follows in the 12-page report is a rambling screed, less an indictment of McManus and Sculley, and more of a summary sentencing by self-appointed vigilantes. Statements unsupported by any credible evidence permeate each page: “As City Manager Sheryl Sculley systematically attempted to dismantle the San Antonio Police Department, Chief McManus stood by and said nothing.”
What are the report’s authors talking about? No one is dismantling the police department. That is delusional. Was anyone downtown Sunday when 65,000 people participated in Síclovía? I spoke to a number of police officers who did an excellent job of crowd and traffic control, managing thousands of people of all ages, on and off bicycles. People and the police got along fine, and all seemed in good spirits. I was wearing a bike helmet and only recognized a few times, but the officers I spoke with were in a good mood and acted professionally. I was out for hours and didn’t witness a single incident of note.
What I did not see was a police department coming apart at its seams, as described in the Tuesday report.
The union’s “After Action Report” is not a credible document. It follows an account in the Express-News by columnist Brain Chasnoff of firefighter union officials targeting a rate increase by the San Antonio Water System with a petition drive to wage its proxy war against Sculley and City Council. A similar petition drive opposing the VIA streetcar project convinced newly elevated Mayor Ivy Taylor to pull city funding and, for all practical purposes, kill the project. Firefighter union officials now hope to score again.
Chasnoff quoted one union official, Stephen Moody, as he exhorted the rank and file in a Facebook posting: “Last week was awesome work and we are within striking distance,” he continued. “We just need some help. We can’t falter on this … Think of it as a chance to kick the folks who been jacking with us for years now square in the nuts.”
Dismantling the police department? Kick folks square in the nuts? These are not San Antonio’s finest speaking.
There are unfortunate consequences to such deliberately misleading and offensive rhetoric. One, there can be no good faith efforts to restart collective bargaining talks. Two, the police and firefighter unions appear to be led by individuals unable to measure their words or actions. Three, the entire city is collateral damage. We aren’t necessarily going to lose any conventions, but who wants to explain law enforcement politics to a visitor?
There are, in fact, a number of issues worth discussing in the report. McManus announced his intentions to fire Officer John Lee, who fatally shot Antronie Scott in an early February police operation to detain him on outstanding felony warrants, and turn over the department’s investigation into the shooting to Bexar County District Attorney Nicolas “Nico” LaHood for possible prosecution.
McManus later reversed himself and said Lee was justified in opening fire at close range because he thought the African-American suspect was holding a gun that proved to be a cell phone. Training, McManus decided, was called for rather than termination or prosecution. That about-face looked bad from all angles, but union officials see it as something more, and the chief’s call for other department reforms as undermining their uniformed authority.
Issues about the size of the police force and the rate of new hires also might be legitimate, although they cannot be considered without measuring the high costs to the City of health care coverage of union members. Were those costs to be contained in a new contract, staffing undoubtedly would return to normal levels.
Such issues are lost in the shouting and finger pointing and constant, if pointless, attacks against Sculley and now McManus. The police and fire unions have never been asked to choose our city’s leaders, or to decide when a change in leadership is warranted. They have no expertise to offer, and certainly no objectivity. Leadership is not their strong suit. Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council are not going to cede such authority to them, no matter how hostile they become or how long this standoff is prolonged.
Read the latest report for yourselves here. I doubt many will find anything in it that can lead the city forward. Instead, it seems like one more misdirected barrage: loud, damaging, and ineffective, another strategic miscalculation.
Featured photo: Cover of the San Antonio Police Association’s ‘No Confidence Vote After Action Report’. Photo by staff.