SAN ANTONIO – Changes to police officer discipline will be the City of San Antonio’s focus when it meets with the San Antonio Police Officers Association next month to begin negotiations over the next police union contract.
City staff laid out the city’s priorities for the upcoming collective bargaining process during Wednesday’s city council meeting. Though the talks were supposed to begin in January, delaying the first meeting until Feb. 12 allows the police union to first transfer power to President-elect John “Danny” Diaz.
City Manager Erik Walsh said the city’s top priorities in hammering out the new deal include “accountability and discipline.”
“As in the past, the negotiations will be transparent and open to the public, and we expect high interest given the ongoing community dialogue about policing,” Walsh said in a statement. “The vast majority of SAPD officers serve and protect our community with honor and dignity, and I wish to personally recognize and thank them for their professionalism.”
The city’s discipline priorities include:
Under the current contract, the chief can only discipline officers up to 180 days from the date of the violation. City officials seek to apply the 180-day window to the discovery of the alleged misconduct rather than the date the violation occurred.
Considering past conduct in disciplinary actions
The current bargaining agreement restricts the chief from considering misconduct older than 10 years for drug and alcohol violations, older than 5 years on violent violations and other misconduct. The city now seeks that all past misconduct is considered in the discipline process.
Disciplinary process timeline
Rather than allowing officers accused of misconduct 48 hours of advanced notice before speaking with internal investigators, city officials want a “level playing field” for Internal Affairs investigators.
Changing the parameters of arbitration
When an officer appeals a disciplinary action, a third-party arbitrator can change the level of discipline, even if the violation is substantiated. The city seeks to limit the arbitrator’s power to only review whether or not the city proved the facts of the case.
Establishing performance evaluations
Performance evaluations are currently not considered in an officer’s promotion process. The city wants to reverse that policy, allowing performance evaluations to play a factor in considering a promotion.
Once a tentative agreement is reached, the contract must be ratified by a majority of the City Council and more than half of the police union.
Diaz, who will take the reins on Feb. 1 from longtime SAPOA President Michael Helle, had little to say about the city’s position when KSAT called him Wednesday. The president-elect noted that the union had not yet put together its priorities.
“Nothing’s off the table because I haven’t had the opportunity to assemble a team, so we haven’t been able to sit and talk,” he said.
Looming over the negotiations is the possibility of the entire collective bargaining process being scrapped.
Four days before the Feb. 12 meeting, the City Clerk’s office will announce a decision on certifying a petition that would place the repeal of the bargaining process under Chapter 174 on the May ballot. The petition, which garnered 20,000 signatures, was organized by Fix SAPD, a police accountability group.
Should the issue make it onto the ballot and be approved by voters, discipline procedures would be governed by what’s in another state law -- Chapter 143 -- instead of what’s in a negotiated contract. Chapter 143, though, would also allow an arbitrator to overturn the police chief’s original discipline, something both the city and Fix SAPD want removed.
Fix SAPD’s founder, Ojiyoma Martin, told KSAT that the group is continuing to gather signatures to repeal Chapter 143 locally, as well, though each signature is only valid for 180 days.
The group kicked off its petition drive in earnest on the first day of early voting for the November election -- Oct. 13, 2020. That means many of its signatures will start becoming invalid starting Apr. 11.
In a statement delivered to council members Wednesday night after the priorities were unveiled, Fix SAPD Deputy Director Ananda Tomas said only four of the 10 problems the group sees with the contract were addressed by City Manager Erik Walsh. One of the missing issues, she said, is the contract’s evergreen clause, which allows the current contract’s provisions to be extended up to eight years in absence of a new contract.
“The police union will have four election cycles to methodically rebuild a council who is sympathetic to their whim,” Dykman said. “No one on council right now will be here in eight years, so this is your last chance to fight for the voice of San Antonio.”
If the evergreen clause goes into effect, police officers’ pay would stay frozen while officers would have to pay 10% more in monthly contributions every year for the health care. The most an officer has to contribute monthly for 2021 under the contract is $182.71, which means they would end up paying $18 to $209 more than that per month, depending on how far negotiations get into the evergreen period.
The city’s focus in the negotiations may be on discipline, but staff say they also want the following:
- The ability to increase training hours and set priorities for training;
- The power to determine the working hours of units within SAPD;
- The power to set leave policies for employees, particularly regarding their ability to “sell” their leave before separating from the department;
- More flexibility on what parts of the department it can “civilianize.”
The city says it also wants to keep total public safety costs (police, fire, and park police budgets) under 66% of its total general fund. The three budgets currently total 64.2% of the general fund, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez said, but SAPD’s $486.5 million on its own accounts for nearly 38%.
Most of the department’s budget -- about $387 million -- is determined by the current union contract.
The first meeting will be for both sides to lay out the ground rules on proceeding with negotiations.
If both sides agree to a deal within 60 days of the start of the negotiation, the new deal would take effect on Sept. 30, 2021. The evergreen clause in effect would allow the current contract to remain in place for up to eight years if negotiations are unsuccessful.
It’s unclear yet if the meetings will be held in-person or virtually, but they will be open to the public to observe.