SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: This story is part of a series reporting on the latest Bexar Facts poll. Find more coverage on our Bexar Facts page.
Leadership from local law enforcement agencies saw a slight dip in their approval ratings but remained largely popular, according to the latest Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report.
The poll, conducted Sept. 17-21, surveyed more than 600 registered voters in Bexar County by phone and internet and included a large number of questions about policing in San Antonio.
A majority of people surveyed, 77%, said they feel safer when they see police in their neighborhood, while 65% said they believe police unions have been a barrier to holding local police officers accountable for misconduct.
San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus saw his approval rating drop from 77% in June to 70% in September, a figure that was still tops among local law enforcement.
McManus did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The longtime chief faced criticism in recent weeks after the controversial arrest in late August of a Black jogger, who SAPD officers mistook for a domestic violence suspect.
Mathias Ometu, 33, was charged with two felony counts of assault on a police officer after repeatedly refusing to identify himself and then struggling with officers as they tried to force him into the back of an SAPD patrol vehicle.
While McManus defended the actions of his officers, who were captured on a body-worn camera incorrectly telling Ometu he had to identify himself, the charges against Ometu were eventually rejected and McManus called the incident “an unfortunate situation for everyone involved.”
The suspect officers were actually looking forward, Darren Smith Jr., was later taken into custody on an unrelated robbery warrant.
He was released from jail Sept. 14, court records show.
Smith, to date, has not been charged in connection to the domestic violence incident.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar saw his approval rating dip slightly from 64% in June to 60% in September, but told KSAT he was happy with the poll’s results.
“It tells me a majority of the community is responding well to our style of management here,” said Salazar. “A big part of what’s led to our success and our positive numbers is the way we deal with cleaning up issues within our own agency.”
Twelve BCSO deputies have been arrested so far this year, according to figures compiled by the KSAT 12 Defenders.
The figure is a sharp decrease from as recently as 2018, when two dozen deputies were charged with criminal offenses.
A Defenders investigation last month revealed BCSO has made strides in reducing the number of deputies charged for drunk driving related offenses.
Only a single deputy has faced a drunk driving related charge so far in 2020, records show.
During his first term in office, Salazar pushed to update BCSO’s civil service process, the agency’s staff psychologist works with deputies who may have an alcohol problem to address the issue before it surfaces in a public arrest and Salazar said members of Alcoholics Anonymous now address deputies during in-service days.
“It’s not something that’s always fun. It’s not something that’s always pleasant, but it’s necessary. Especially now in this day and age, people are clamoring, they’re screaming for more accountability and I’m willing to do that,” said Salazar.
The poll was conducted less than a month after BCSO deputies shot and killed military veteran Damian Daniels following a two-minute struggle outside his far West Side home.
Daniels' family originally called the American Red Cross and asked them to respond to the home, as Daniels was having a mental health episode, because they didn’t think a response from law enforcement was the right way to handle the situation, their attorney revealed last month.
The San Antonio Police Officers Association, which is now just months away from beginning collective bargaining talks with the city, had an approval rating of 55%, the poll found.
“Glad to see your poll shows strong support for SAPOA,” said association president Mike Helle, who added in an email statement that he had seen other polling that shows very strong support for police with people - especially those from minority neighborhoods. He did not elaborate on which polls he was referring to.
The Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio report poll found that of those people surveyed in September, 61% believe local police are fair and impartial when enforcing the law. That figure was 69% in the June poll.
Of the people surveyed in September, 56% said local police officers have good relationships with communities of color in San Antonio. That figure was 62% in the June poll.
According to the September poll, 44% of people feel too many local police are biased against Black Americans. That figure stood at 36% in the June poll.
More than six-in-ten people surveyed would support a measure to repeal city laws that establish collective bargaining rights and other terms for police and fire unions. The measure will also reform internal investigation procedures when disciplining local police officers for misconduct.
When asked if they would support such a vote in an upcoming election, 41% of people said “Definitely yes” and 23 % of people said “Probably yes.”
Only 15% of people surveyed said “Definitely no” and 12% of people surveyed were still undecided on the issue.
KSAT will publish more results from the poll — from local propositions and approval ratings to the biggest issues facing San Antonio and evolving public opinion on the coronavirus pandemic and policing — in the coming days in our Bexar Facts section.
See the full poll and find more information about it on the Bexar Facts website. There, you can also take the survey for yourself (those results will be recorded but not reflected in the scientific results.)