San Antonio female activist pushes for local repeal of laws that are seen as helping shield bad cops

Even if Chapters 143 & 174 are repealed, SAPOA president says evergreen clause would keep union contract in place until 2029

A San Antonio mother turned activist says there are two laws regarding how police officers get disciplined that must go.

San AntonioEDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that about two-thirds of fired SAPD officers between 2010 and 2019 had “won their jobs back through appeal.” This has been corrected below to reflect that these reinstatements were the result of either arbitration or action by the police chief and that the statistic is based on those who appealed.

While many are calling to “defund” the police, one San Antonio mother-turned-activist is focused on a movement to “repeal.”

Ojiyoma Martin is the organizer behind Fix S.A.P.D., which has the aim of repealing chapters 143 and 174 of the Texas Local Government Code. The pair of laws, she believes, help keep bad police officers in the San Antonio Police Department and stand in the way of being able to make reforms.

“We need to have a way to rebuild our police department. Rebuild it for justice. Rebuild it for fairness, for each and every one of us,” Martin said.

To do that, she says, the two laws have to go.

Chapter 174 allows for police officers and firefighters to participate in collective bargaining for a contract. Chapter 143 includes procedures for discipline upon which parts of the current police union contract are based.

The existing SAPD disciplinary procedures have come under criticism from those who see them as overly protecting police officers. A KSAT Defenders investigation, Broken Blue, found that between 2010 and 2019, about two-thirds of fired SAPD officers who sought arbitration were reinstated - either by an arbitrator or by Chief William McManus.

“A cop who feeds a feces sandwich to a homeless man should not be on the force, regardless of if he did it 180 days ago or 181 days ago," Martin said, referring to the case of Matthew Luckhurst. "Those things are point blank, everyone can agree on.”

The adoption of the two chapters, 143 and 174, must be approved by local voters, which they were in 1947 and 1974, respectively, but they can also be repealed. Doing so requires a petition to get the issues onto the ballot, and then voter approval at the ballot box.

According to city legal staff, the current signature requirements to get repeals of chapters 143 and 174 onto a ballot would be 78,415 and 19,337, respectively, based on recent voter numbers.

District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan expressed support for the idea during a Wednesday council meeting.

RELATED: Council members talk police reform, including shifting money, amid ongoing protests

“I ask that the city of San Antonio continue to let their voices be heard and to go to ensuring that this petition to repeal things that have been done prior to any of us being alive,” Andrews-Sullivan said.

Martin has no signatures so far, as she is still crafting the petitions. As for which election she would aim to get the issues on the ballot, Martin said, “we’ll let the people decide."

If Martin is successful and both chapters are repealed, First Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Provencio said “we would be looking at a system that would be based on how civilians work.”

"Our employment relationship with them would operate under state and federal laws that are generally applicable to public sector employees.”

But, it may not happen right away.

San Antonio Police Officer Association President Mike Helle said even if the two laws are repealed, officers would still be covered by their existing contract.

Though the current collective bargaining agreement expires Sep. 30, 2021, it also has an eight-year evergreen clause that Helle says would keep it in effect until Sep. 30, 2029.

“Until that runs out - well, then that’s when it’s going to be problematic for our officers and for the city,” Helle said.

Without the pay and benefits offered by the union contract, Helle said officers will leave the department, decimating the ranks.

“I don’t even want to think about what a terrible place it would be for this town. What kind of workforce it would have," Helle said.

As for changing the discipline procedures that are in the contract, “it’s all a negotiation.”

Repealing the laws would also affect the fire union, which is also covered by both chapters. A request for comment from the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association was not returned before airtime.

MORE: There’s a growing call to defund the police. Here’s what it means

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.