SAN ANTONIO – With a "no confidence" vote planned regarding Chief William McManus, the police union's president says it comes down to what rank-and-file members believe is a change in use-of-force policy.
The whole issue ties into the discipline handed down last week to Officer John Lee. Lee shot and killed an unarmed man in February while trying to arrest him on two felony warrants. Last week, Lee was issued a "contemplated indefinite suspension."
San Antonio Police Officers Association President Michael Helle said the discipline marks a change.
"John Lee is just the catalyst of the mechanism for the PERF study," Helle said.
Helle said SAPOA members see Lee's discipline as a sign that Mcmanus is changing use-of-force policies in a way that counters current training. The Police Executive Research Forum, a police research organization, recommends departments take a more hands-off approach.
The union is particularly worried about one of PERF's "30 Guiding Principles," which says "Departments should adopt policies that hold themselves to a higher standard than the legal requirements of Graham v. Connor," 1 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
"When you try to make your own rules of engagement outside of what the United Supreme Court has said, (it) is extremely reckless, and it creates a huge liability," Helle said.
The union fears implementing that policy would put officers and citizens in danger.
"When you call for help on 911 when there was a shooting in place right now, under this standard, I have to wait. And I'm going to wait down the street. And it's going to be like the fire department. I'm going to stage," Helle said. "And until I get enough people to show up, then I'm going to move forward and go when the most premium and optimum opportunity regarding tactics that I can go in and help you. You're not going to like that at all. I wouldn't like that."
In a February interview, McManus said he was reviewing the PERF recommendations.
"We're not trying to jam this down people's throats," McManus said. "We want people to understand it, to accept it. In order for that to happen, we've got to present it in the right way."
Lee's lawyer, Ben Sifuentes Jr., applauds the union's planned vote. He said if McManus does want to change policy, the chief should do it by trying to change the law up in Austin.
"And that should be a public discussion, not by the chief behind closed doors like the Wizard of Oz behind a curtain," Sifuentes said.
Sifuentes said he hopes a vote of "no confidence" might result in discussion about firing McManus. Helle doesn't think that will happen, but he hopes the vote will make the chief back away from that kind of policy.