Mayor says city needs a ‘level set’ to determine what police changes are needed

Nirenberg raises discipline procedure issues and “8 Can’t Wait” project

Mayor Ron Nirenberg talks about the change he wants to see in San Antonio
Mayor Ron Nirenberg talks about the change he wants to see in San Antonio

San Antonio – As protestors against police brutality have filled San Antonio’s streets, and even its city council chambers, in the past week, Mayor Nirenberg said the city is listening.

Nirenberg told a crowd on Thursday to “hold me accountable” for ushering in changes regarding police in San Antonio. It’s not clear yet what specific changes those would be, but the mayor raised the possibility of both discipline procedures in the current union contract and policies from the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign.

“So what we’re going to be doing is working directly with the community to hear some of the changes that are are being called for, something we’ve heard before, but actually delivering that change through the channels that we know how to do,” Nirenberg said.

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The mayor said the first step is a “level set” — taking stock of where the city is at regarding SAPD policies and procedures. At the top of the list, Nirenberg said, is the department’s use of force policy.

“I think that’s a standard practice where we need to have a very clear understanding as a community of when force is used by the police department and under what circumstances,” Nirenberg said.

The city council is expected to receive a presentation at its June 10 B-session meeting, but the issue was not on the official agenda as of Friday night.

From there, the mayor said the city can find out where people want to see change.

It’s a myriad of federal law, state law, local contracting, and then, of course, departmental policy,” Nirenberg said.

The current police contract and several protections it affords to officers accused of misconduct have been the focus of reformers who want to add more accountability and discipline within the department, particularly in the last week.

The contract expires next fall, and negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement are expected to begin in January. That will come just after the San Antonio Police Officer Association elects a successor to current union President Mike Helle, who plans to step down at the end of his term.

RELATED: Mike Helle, longtime president of San Antonio Police Officers Association, to step down at end of term

Nirenberg voted against the current police union contract in 2016 while he was a city councilman. He said there are issues related to disciplinary procedures left out last time that will need to be on the negotiating table for the new contract.

“The fact that, you know, the chief of police is hamstrung in terms of the level of transparency of records that go to the arbitration panels when there is a officer disciplined," Nirenberg said. "Those are the kinds of things that need to be worked out in the next negotiation, and we need the public and we need the community to understand where those levels of authority lie so we can work on them together.”

Meanwhile, the Public Safety Committee can work on areas of policy that Nirenberg said “we know should be addressed,” like the 8 Can’t Wait campaign. The campaign, which has gained attention amid the ongoing protests, calls for the implementation of eight policies meant to decrease deaths at the hands of police.

According to the campaign’s website, SAPD already employs half of the policies:

  • A ban on choke holds and strangle holds
  • A requirement for de-escalation
  • A duty to intervene when another officer uses unreasonable force
  • A use of force continuum.

However, according to the campaign website, SAPD does NOT:

  • Require a warning before shooting
  • Require exhausting alternatives before shooting
  • Ban shooting at moving vehicles
  • Require what it calls “comprehensive reporting.”

Nirenberg said demonstrators want someone to be held responsible for achieving the change they want.

“If there’s frustrations about where we end up from here, I take that responsibility," the mayor said. "If we want change, it has to be delivered, and that responsibility lies with me.”

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.