SAN ANTONIO – As Americans continue to discuss police reforms, police unions are under renewed scrutiny. Activists argue they protect bad cops. Police advocates say unions protect officers from being fired unjustifiably.
Mike Helle, the president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, weighed in on the controversial debate during a Q&A session on KSAT Tuesday.
“It’s offensive to me, because in a way that, policemen do not want bad cops on the department. No way, shape or how,” Helle said. Union contracts are solely focused on setting the framework for the process of disciplining or terminating an officer and it’s the police chief’s responsibility to prove an officer’s wrongdoing, Helle added.
The current police contract, which expires at the end of September 2021, 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.
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 defenders have reported on multiple officers who have been terminated only to be reinstated again. One officer that KSAT has reported on extensively is bike patrol Officer Matthew Luckhurst. Last year, Luckhurst won reinstatement after being fired for giving a homeless man a feces sandwich in 2016.
“Nobody wants that guy back on the department. But, the chief dropped the ball on that case and didn’t do things that he should have done that would have prevented him from coming back on the department,” Helle said.
Luckhurt’s legal representation was able to capitalize on a section of the local government code that prevents law enforcement agencies from disciplining an officer for conduct that occurred outside a 180-day window, or within 180 days of the department becoming aware of the incident if it constitutes a possible criminal act.
Helle said he does support reviewing what reforms can be made to the future contract.
“I’m not objecting to changes. I’ve said all along. I’ve said it to the mayor and the manager that we’re willing to sit down and deal with the type of changes that need to be made that are outside of chapter 143,” he said.
With so much focus on the police, Helle said the biggest misconception about the San Antonio Police Officers Association is that the union seeks to protect criminal acts by officers. He believes their contract takes the politics out of disciplining officers. “That’s all we’re about: establishing a fair process that gives the employee the opportunity to give an argument about why they shouldn’t be terminated or fired,” Helle said.
More from Helle below in KSAT Q&A. Catch these interview on the 6 O’clock news and the Nightbeat every weeknight.