SAN ANTONIO – The quickest path to police reform depends on who you ask on either side of Proposition B.
Fix SAPD, the grassroots group that organized the ballot proposal that would take away police officers’ bargaining rights, argued that a more open negotiation under a “meet and confer” system would be the quickest route. The San Antonio Police Officers Association says reforms can be achieved through collective bargaining acts.
Representatives for both groups made their pitch to voters during a debate Thursday evening at Trinity University hosted by KSAT, San Antonio Report and Bexar Facts. (Watch on demand below or click here.)
If Prop B is approved, Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code would be repealed, halting current negotiations between the city and the police union on the upcoming collective bargaining agreement.
Sgt. Rachel Barnes, a member of SAPOA, said the passage of Prop B wouldn’t just affect recruitment efforts but dismantle the current contract in place.
“If we were to get meet and confer, we would start from ground zero trying to build another contract,” Barnes said.
James Dykman, a board member of Fix SAPD, said Prop B would not affect health care and pay wages for the police department. He noted that funding for the police department would not change, disputing Barnes and the union’s characterization of the initiative as a form of “defunding police.”
“Voting ‘yes’ on Proposition B has always been about police accountability,” he said. “We want to make sure this system is working.”
Dykman took aim at protections afforded to officers accused of misconduct, many of which were put into the current collective bargaining act that will remain in effect until September.
“We are listening to the community, and we understand where they’re coming from,” Barnes said. “We’ve made proposals to address the things that they’re talking about.”
“When we’re talking about what’s happening at the negotiations ... there are only six of the 10 issues addressed,” Dykman said. “Good, but not enough.”
Other major cities in Texas operate under the “meet and confer” system. Under that process, the city still negotiates with officers on a contract, but there’s no binding arbitration in place to force a decision, giving the city more leverage while the police union would have less.
Even if Proposition B is passed, the city would still seek to recruit police officers by keeping their wages and benefits competitive with other large cities, said San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia.
“We recognized that we need to recruit, retain our best employees,” Segovia said. “I would imagine we would maintain competitive compensation, competitive health program, just like we would for any other city employee.”
“It’s nice to hear from the city, but the fact of the matter is that’s not a given,” Barnes responded.
Many voters remain undecided on passing Proposition B. The Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report 2021 Q1 Poll puts Prop B support at 34% compared to the opposition at 39%. More than a quarter of respondents, 28%, are undecided, meaning the race is “wide open,” said Dave Metz, founder of FM3 Research, which conducted the poll.
Both sides used the debate as a chance to pitch to those undecided voters.
Ultimately, San Antonio residents will have the final say on Proposition B on May 1.