SAN ANTONIO – A proposed resolution put forward on Thursday by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg lays out how the city is expected to address calls for reform of the San Antonio Police Department.
Like other major cities across the nation, San Antonio city officials have been reexamining the police department in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Floyd died in Minneapolis after a police officer pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes while attempting to detain him for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
While San Antonio residents still have a chance to weigh in on the police department in scheduled listening sessions, the resolution put forward by Nirenberg breaks down the key points city officials are hoping to address.
Officer disciplinary procedures and intergovernmental relations
In a memo about the resolution, Nirenberg mentioned officer disciplinary procedure as one of the priorities.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus’ authority to discipline officers is severely limited by state law and the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the San Antonio Police Officers Association.
The agreement, which is up for negotiation in 2021, includes protections for officers that experts have deemed problematic. In fact, more than two-thirds of fired SAPD officers have won back their jobs under the agreement in the last decade, according to records obtained and analyzed by KSAT under public information law.
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.
Nirenberg wants the police department to finalize policies related to a movement known as “8 Can’t Wait." The nationwide project, led by Campaign Zero, focuses on eight policies that could lead to a reduction use-of-force incidents.
Currently, the police department meets four of those eight standards.
McManus said that the department’s current policies are similar to what the initiative stands for, but that Project Zero scores department based on specific language in the policy.
For example, the police department has not banned shooting at moving cars, but it is only permissible as a measure of self-defense or defense of another life.
The chief has, however, signaled a willingness to change most of the policies to match up with the initiative. It is one of the few reforms that is not bound to the collective bargaining agreement.
Community health and equity
In the memo, Nirenberg wrote one priority is to “evaluate best policing practices to help promote race and gender equity.”
City officials have expressed interest in having the police chief bolster training for officers.
While cadets and officers do train on deescalation, crisis intervention and implicit bias, some city council members think more should be done.
“In order for it to be effective, it does have to happen frequently,” councilwoman Ana Sandoval said. “We’re talking about trying to eradicate a lifetime of learned behavior and biases. That’s why we really need to revisit that.”
“Cultural diversity is a core curriculum of both cadet training and required for...in-service training," McManus said.
Nirenberg hopes the council and the police department can address some of these reforms before negotiating next year’s collective bargaining agreement.
“San Antonians have taken to the streets to demand change,” Nirenberg wrote in his memo. “While we have clearly heard their calls, now we must listen and act.”