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SAPD moves forward with promotional exam, despite concerns from officers about overcrowding

Detective promotional exam scheduled for May 14 at Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Police Department officials confirmed Wednesday that they will press on with plans to hold a detective promotional exam next week, despite concerns from officers that it could potentially expose them to COVID-19.

The exam, scheduled for May 14 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, has in past years brought hundreds of officers together for a written test that determines who will be promoted to the rank of detective.

SAPD officials have not said how many officers are scheduled to take the exam this year.

“It seems to be contradictory to what the mayor has established, as far as the guidelines of what we are supposed to be doing,” said San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle, referring to the city-wide Stay at Home order currently in effect until May 19.

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The order prohibits large gatherings of people.

Helle said Wednesday that not only are the optics of a mass gathering bad, but it could cause officers to be unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19.

“At least delay it until it’s safe to take the exam,” Helle said.

According to figures released Wednesday, six SAPD officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and seven department members, including officers and civilians, were in quarantine.

SAPD officials defended their decision to move forward with the exam in a written statement released Wednesday afternoon:

“The detective promotional exam is proceeding as scheduled, with added social distancing guidelines. The exam will be administered in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). With respect to state and local public health emergency declarations, SAPD and this exam are considered an essential function. The administration of this exam allows the department to continue filling vacancies that arise within the detective rank. These positions investigate cases of family violence, sexual assaults, and homicides, so it is critical to continue filling these vacancies. The exam will be held in the convention center and those taking the exam will be issued PPE to include masks and hand sanitizer. All entrants will have their temperature scanned prior to entry.”

Emails shared with the KSAT 12 Defenders show that officers as early as last year asked that the exam be delayed a few days so that members of a 2012 cadet class could qualify for an extra year of seniority.

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Officers who take the exam are given one point for each year of service, up to 10 years, that is added to their overall score, according to Helle.

Records show Helle reached out to officials, including the city’s human resources director, as far back as December to ask if the exam could be briefly delayed.

“In my 10 years as union president, they have accommodated as far as two to three weeks to help out a class. For some particular reason they chose not to do it this time,” Helle said.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March. The first case confirmed in the U.S. was in mid-January and the first case confirmed in San Antonio was in mid-February.

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