SAN ANTONIO – As the city and the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) are set to begin negotiating a new police contract, the union’s incoming president held a news conference Monday with Police Chief William McManus, targeting a group of activists who they said are “trying to divide our city.”
“And they are doing so by misrepresenting the chief’s statements and lying about the true intentions of the radical anti-police agenda,” said John “Danny” Diaz, president-elect of the San Antonio Police Officers Association. “The group, Fix SAPD, is going door to door lying to voters and saying they are from the police department, and that they have the support of Chief McManus. These out-of-state political operatives are funded by dark, special interest groups.”
Diaz said that SAPD has received reports from citizens saying that Fix SAPD group members “are being physically aggressive in their efforts to get their signatures on a petition to weaken and defund the police.”
Ananda Tomas, of Fix SAPD, denied that group members are saying they are with SAPD or SAPOA in an interview with KSAT, saying that is “misinformation that is being spread.” She also said the group members are not harassing residents.
She told KSAT that the name of the group appears to be confusing residents.
“So, we’re not saying we’re with SAPD. I believe people are getting confused because the name is Fix SAPD. Sometimes, it’s hard to hear through a mask. Sometimes, people are not listening fully. So that’s where the confusion is happening,” Tomas said.
Tomas said that the group has collected “tens of thousands of signatures” but wouldn’t elaborate how many “for obvious reasons.”
Fix SAPD says on its website that it “wants to talk about getting rid of the barriers to upholding decisions made by the Chief of Police about the running of his department.” Its members have been circulating petitions to put two state laws onto local ballots for San Antonio voters to overturn.
One of the laws -- chapter 174 -- gives police officers the ability to get a union contract through collective bargaining, while the other -- chapter 143, also known as “Civil Service” -- provides the basis upon which much of that contract is based.
The adoption of the two chapters must be approved by local voters, which they were in 1947 and 1974, respectively, but they can also be repealed.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.
If the group is successful with its petitions, voters could end up considering the issue in the May election.
McManus steered clear of any direct criticism of the activists during the press conference, leaving the barbs to Diaz, but McManus did say he’s heard complaints about groups gathering signatures for a petition. He did not provide specifics.
The chief has been vocal in his opposition to the current union contract and how it cuts into his ability to discipline officers. Fix SAPD even uses a quote from McManus, taken from a San Antonio Express News interview, on its website -- “Good officers don’t need these protections.”
However, the chief’s presence at the press conference appeared to be at least tacit opposition to the Fix SAPD’s goals.
When pressed on whether he opposed the group’s petitions, McManus said “Let me answer it this way, I’m not opposed to collective bargaining. I think that the issues that we have can be straightened out at the negotiating table.”
The press conference comes as City Council and the union are set to begin hashing out details of a new contract that will determine everything from salaries and overtime to training and disciplinary procedure. The current contract expires after September but could be temporarily extended if a new agreement isn’t reached by then.
The press conference was also the first public stage for Diaz, who will be replacing longtime SAPOA president Mike Helle, with whom McManus often butted heads. Helle announced in June that he would be stepping down, and with Diaz’s election, McManus said “we have turned a corner.”
“It’s a breath of fresh air coming into a new era, knowing that we will be working together closely with the SAPOA on common goals,” Diaz said.
Diaz said that he and McManus are “united in our common goal of protecting and serving the people of San Antonio.”
The chief said he has two main concerns with the contract that he wants corrected.
One is the way arbitration is set up. McManus said he has issue with the current 180-day timeline that’s used when a complaint or misconduct occurs versus how long SAPD is allowed to address it. He wants the 180-day timeline to be adjusted so that it starts when SAPD becomes aware of the occurrence instead of when it occurred.
McManus also said he has an issue with a “two-year lookback” period that prevents SAPD from looking back further than two years for past disciplinary history of an officer.
Contract negotiations are supposed to start this month, though no dates have been set yet. McManus will not be part of the negotiations.
The current police contract 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, particularly as international protests against police brutality have put a spotlight on police conduct in recent months.
Chief McManus said late last year that the current contract and state laws “protect bad officers” in an interview with KSAT.
McManus said the current discipline process, which allows a terminated police officer to ask for a hearing with a third-party arbitrator, has caused consequences for misconduct to not be certain or final.
While officer discipline was a topic of discussion during negotiations on the current contract, which was signed in late 2016, officer health care ended up being the issue that both sides drilled down on.
When asked about Monday’s joint press conference, City Manager Erik Walsh said the following a statement:
“The key message from the press conference is that both SAPOA and the City of San Antonio are looking to improve the working relationship for the benefit of the community. We plan to start good faith negotiations with SAPOA on a new collective bargaining agreement early this year. Police accountability and transparency remains the top priority for the City in both the Collective Bargaining Agreement and upcoming Texas Legislative Session. Both the union contract and state law have provisions that limit the City Manager and the Chief’s ability to discipline officers for violations, so we are pursuing a dual path to rebalancing these issues in the future.”