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.
The results of a Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report Poll show likely voters reject the idea of defunding the San Antonio Police Department but believe police monies should be reallocated.
According to the poll, 619 registered Bexar County voters were asked by phone and internet between Sept. 17-21 if SAPD should be defunded. The results showed that 76% of voters said they were against defunding compared to 20% who said they approved while 4% said they didn’t know.
The poll also asked voters if funds going to SAPD should be reallocated to fund other programs like mental health and substance abuse treatment. The results showed that 51% of voters agreed while 47% disagreed and 2% said they didn’t know.
The poll has a margin of error of 4%.
Police defunding has become a hot issue in San Antonio and across the United States in the wake of several fatal police-involved shootings, including the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. The issue ignited hundreds of protests calling for changes in the way law enforcement agencies are funded and limiting the power of police unions.
Members of Reliable Revolutionaries, a community activist group in San Antonio, said they were extremely disappointed when the San Antonio City Council in mid-September voted to increase SAPD’s budget by about $7 million to pay for salary increases and health care costs. City and police leaders said about 79% of the budget is tied to the collective bargaining agreement and cannot be cut.
Pharaoh Clark, a leader of the group, said on Sept. 21 the vote was a “blatant disrespect to the people.”
Clark said the group may have lost the battle, but not the war. The group is gearing up again for the next City Council budget, and especially in the contract negotiations involving the city and San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) in 2021.
“Some of these laws that are in the collective bargaining agreement that specifically tie the city’s hands when it comes to being inflexible with the budget,” Clark said. “Those are certain things that we’re going to be looking at and expect to be on the table. What we’re asking for is accountability in the police department and transparency in the police department. We’re asking to get rid of bad cops, not good cops.”
A large majority of poll respondents appear to agree with Clark’s assertion that police unions have too much power.
When asked if police unions have been a barrier to holding police officers accountable for misconduct, 65% of poll participants said they agreed while 28% said they disagreed and 17% said they didn’t know.
But Michael Helle, president of SAPOA, said he is suspicious of the group’s real intentions.
“The City Council and the people of San Antonio should make no mistake: this ‘repeal’ movement is just one more way to defund police!” he said on Sept. 21.
The protests staged during the summer in San Antonio over the police-involved deaths of Floyd and other Black people focused in large part on racial inequality.
One question in the poll looked at race, specifically bias among local police officers toward Black people. The question asked whether too many local police officers are biased against African Americans. According to the poll, 44% of respondents agreed, while 45% disagreed with 11% percent saying they didn’t know.
But the poll found that when Hispanics are included, police officers were seen in a more favorable light. When likely voters were asked if local police officers have good relationships with communities of color in San Antonio, 56% of the respondents agreed while 29% disagreed and 15% saying they didn’t know.
Top law enforcement officials were generally given a vote of confidence by poll respondents.
When asked if they approved their performance, 70% of respondents approved of San Antonio Police Chief William McManus while 60% approved of the job done by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar. SAPOA, the police union, received a 55% approval. Each saw their approval ratings drop several points since June.
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.)