Citizen complaint spurs investigation into police breaks

Report: Too many officers, too much time spent at Mexican restaurant

taco-watch

SAN ANTONIO - A KSAT 12 Defenders investigation found a large number of San Antonio police officers and firefighters taking breaks at the same time at the same restaurant in violation of city policies.

The investigation was spurred by a customer of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, located south of downtown, who contacted the Defenders to ask why so many uniformed city employees were always seen there.

In a hidden camera investigation spanning two months, the Defenders found the restaurant on Nogalitos at Interstate 35 was a popular spot for breakfast.

And judging by the number of police vehicles in the parking lot on three separate mornings, it is also one of the safest.

On a December morning, there were five unmarked fire department vehicles there.

On Jan. 4, there were five police vehicles there at one time -- some marked, some not marked.

According to city records, the employees driving two crime scene pickup trucks spotted there are entitled to a 30-minute break. The Defenders found that they were there for at least 53 minutes.

And according to records provided by the city, some city workers were taking a meal break right after starting their shift. One officer began his shift at 8 am and by 8:10 a.m. he was at the restaurant eating.

The Defenders asked SAPD whether there were concerns about employees taking too long on breaks, too many employees at a time in one place or employees taking breaks so soon after their shift starts.

"Some of the stuff that you sent over was acceptable by our standards and some of it obviously was not," said San Antonio police spokesman Sgt. Javier Salazar.

He said officers can take a break as early as one hour into their shift, that no more than two marked cars can be at a location at one time and that officers cannot take longer breaks than allowed.

"Corrective action was taken once it was pointed out to us and we obviously take all of these complaints seriously," Salazar said.

Most citizens would agree that officers who put their lives on the line deserve a break, but because they are on the public payroll, police officials say they must follow the rules.

The fire department sent a response about their five unmarked vehicles spotted at the restaurant at one time and called it a "working breakfast."

This is the emailed statement from the fire department:

“A break would indicate a time when an employee may walk away from job responsibilities for a period of time. Thirty minutes is certainly a reasonable amount of time for that activity, if workload would permit that to occur. The Arson Investigators referenced in your request are subject to emergency response the entire time that they are on duty, therefore, rarely receive the opportunity to take a "break". In addition, during times where they are gathered, the conversation may involve work duties and activities such as on the day referenced. This gathering would best be described as a working breakfast and not a true break. In response to your final question, there are no current policies that dictate the number of vehicles that may be gathered in one location.”

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