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TEXAS VIEW: Time to fix contract for SAPD union - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Time to fix contract for SAPD union

THE POINT: Allowing problem officers back on the job undermines public confidence and support for law enforcement.

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Posted: Thursday, July 9, 2020 2:30 am

A bit of history before we delve into the city’s problematic police contract.

Public sentiment toward the San Antonio Police Officers Association has waned since it first won its collective bargaining rights in 1975.

After winning that election by a 6-1 vote margin, then-SAPOA President Jerry Clancy told the Express-News, “Personally, I did not figure we would win by such a wide majority. I think the silent majority went to the polls and indicated what they think of law enforcement in our community.”

The union approached its first contract negotiations asking for $1.3 million in improvements, free parking and permission for uniform officers to take their police cars home for personal use. But an inch has turned into miles.

Today the size of the Police Department has more than doubled, and it has a budget of close to $500 million. Traditionally, the police union has been a major political force at City Hall. It has flexed its muscles during elections, and the union’s endorsement has long been a coveted prize among candidates at all levels of government. That’s changed somewhat in recent years. Many union-backed candidates have lost in recent city elections.

Still, over the years the SAPOA has negotiated very lucrative compensation packages for its members, and like many police unions across the country now has a contract that makes it exceedingly difficult to discipline or fire officers, a key obstacle to police reform.

City Council wants to change the way discipline is handled under the contract, and there is a grassroots effort underway to get the collective bargaining issue back before voters.

Problematic disciplinary rules in the San Antonio police contract that hamper the police chief’s ability to fire officers have been a festering issue for years, but they have never been a priority during contract negotiations. The most recent contract negotiations focused on health care costs.

But the issue has been pushed to the forefront in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Officers like Derek Chauvin, who had 17 misconduct complaints against him before he put his knee on Floyd’s neck, do not deserve to wear a badge.

Allowing problem officers back on the job undermines public confidence and support for law enforcement, is a disservice to officers with untarnished service records and is a failure to the public.

Over the last decade San Antonio Police Chief William McManus has had 10 officers he fired return to the force after going through an appeal involving an independent arbitrator. During the same time period, the police chief allowed 20 fired officers to return to the job under threat of arbitration, the Express-News reports.

This can affect prosecutions. District Attorney Joe Gonzales told us he keeps two lists of problematic police officers. One, referred to as the permanent list, has the names of 16 officers whose cases he will not accept for prosecution unless there is another officer to corroborate their reports. The other is a disclosure list with names of officers who have been disciplined that he makes available to defense lawyers as part of discovery process.

Why are these officers on the job if their work is compromised and can’t be used for prosecution of criminals?

We are disappointed the San Antonio City Council decided Thursday, June 25, not to take any action on a resolution outlining the city’s priorities in negotiating the new police contract and punting the issue until August to allow for further community input.

The resolution proposed eliminating the 180-day limitation on imposing discipline, allowing past disciplinary actions to be considered in new cases, and appointing an independent citizen review board to monitor internal affairs investigations and make disciplinary recommendations. It also sought to amend the arbitration process by limiting the arbitrator’s authority and allowing the police chief or the city manager to have a role in final discipline.

The resolution did not address all the flaws in the police contract, but it offered a good starting point. We hope the lack of political fortitude on the Council to pass this nonbinding resolution doesn’t undermine upcoming contract negotiations.

The organization Fix SAPD has launched an effort to gather signatures for a rollback election on collective bargaining and arbitration in San Antonio. That effort is unlikely to meet the mid-August deadlines to gather signatures and have them certified for the November ballot.

We don’t know if we would support such an effort, but we do know the fine print in the police union’s contract shouldn’t protect officers with troubled histories. Changing this is crucial to any reform.


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