SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus this week said state lawmakers need to take up the issue of collective bargaining agreements and the protections they offer for officers involved in misconduct.
“Collective bargaining agreements and state laws actually protect the bad officers,” McManus said Tuesday during a live appearance on KSAT’s 6 p.m. newscast. He repeated similar comments while briefing the city council on police policy Wednesday afternoon.
The comments came as protests in honor of George Floyd stretched well into their second week in San Antonio.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed a knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds late last month. Floyd’s death, which was caught on video, has sparked nationwide protests demanding justice and reform, including in San Antonio.
McManus said the current discipline process, which allows a terminated police officer to ask for a hearing with a third-party arbitrator, has caused consequences for misconduct to not be certain or final.
“When that doesn’t happen we are stuck with bad police officers,” said McManus.
In San Antonio, police officers who were fired ultimately were granted reinstatement in 67.5% of cases in the last decade, according to data obtained by KSAT under public information law.
The city and the San Antonio Police Officers Association are scheduled to formally begin talks on the department’s next CBA early in 2021.
The current CBA is scheduled to expire late next year.
While officer discipline was a topic of discussion during negotiations on the current contract, which was signed in late 2016, officer health care ended up being the issue that both sides drilled down on.
McManus said state lawmakers also need to take up the issue, pointing to Chapter 143 and Chapter 174 of the Local Government Code as a good starting point.
Chapter 143 sets baseline rules for the operation and police and fire departments in Texas, while Chapter 174 allows these departments to organize and negotiate enhancements beyond the guidelines set forth in 143.
San Antonio’s collective bargaining agreement includes many protections that some scholars have deemed problematic. It’s an issue common across most large cities, according to the Duke Law Journal’s 2017 publication, “Police Union Contracts.”
Some of the protections include:
Delayed interviews of accused officers
When an officer is accused of alleged wrongdoing that is not a criminal matter, Internal Affairs must give the accused officer 48-hours notice before any interview or interrogation takes place. In criminal matters, the criminal investigation starts right away — like other criminal cases — and Internal Affairs conducts a separate investigation.
Accused officers review evidence before speaking to investigators
During that 48-hour window, before they speak to investigators, officers are allowed to review all of the evidence in the investigation. This includes the complaint and other written statements, GPS readouts, video recordings, audio recordings and any other information gathered in the administrative investigation.
Brief statute of limitations
Police administrators have six months to administer any discipline against an accused officer. In criminal cases, the clock starts when the department becomes aware of the charge. In civil matters, administrators can only act within 180 days of when the incident took place.
The clause is problematic in some cases because departments may not be aware of the allegations until the statute of limitations expires.
Discipline history is not always considered
When presenting their case to arbitrators, police administrators are not allowed to introduce any evidence of acts that have occurred before the 180-day window.
Past discipline is generally only brought up if the officer is accused of violating the same rule within two years of when the punishment was assessed, however, there are a few exceptions. Prior history can be used as evidence if the allegations include "violence, substance abuse and incompetence,” according to the collective bargaining agreement.
Limited civilian oversight
The collective bargaining agreement establishes a Chief’s Advisory Action Board, which includes a deputy chief, a captain, a lieutenant, a sergeant, a detective and two patrol officers.
It also establishes the Citizen Advisory Action Board, comprised of civilians picked from a list of names provided by the city manager. Both boards oversee complaints against police.
However, the boards’ recommendations on discipline are “advisory only” and non-binding.
Further, the citizen board “may not conduct a separate independent investigation" into a complaint. It can only recommend further investigation.
Costs for the city
Another feature of many union contracts that some studies and activists consider problematic is the city being on the hook to pay for certain costs following an officer’s alleged misconduct.
These can include providing officers paid leave while they under investigation, covering their legal fees, and even paying for settlement costs.
In San Antonio, the current SAPD Collective Bargaining Agreement prescribes that the city will defend any police officer, in and out of court, who lawfully carried out duties.
One other controversial feature of the San Antonio police agreement: When an officer is suspended, he can use holiday, vacation, or bonus days as compensation during that time, as long as it doesn’t exceed 45 days.