SAN ANTONIO – A major change was announced Monday for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office as part of the collective bargaining agreement -- no more arbitration, and the deputy discipline and appeals process is changing significantly.
“This is going to revolutionize the way disciplinary cases are handled within the sheriff’s office,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said.
Salazar announced BCSO would be adding a Citizen’s Advisory Action Board, or CAAB, as part of their disciplinary process.
“Citizens appointed by commissioners and Judge (Nelson) Wolff that are going to have the opportunity to hear certain disciplinary cases,” Salazar said.
Act 4 SA has been critical of how San Antonio police have handled discipline. When it comes to this plan for Bexar County deputies, Ananda Tomas, the executive director for ACT 4 SA, shared her initial reaction.
Firstly, ACT 4 SA believes in alternative solutions to policing. The size and scope of law enforcement in our community and across America has been too large for too long. That being said, we agree to the increase in pay for deputies, particularly for those working at the Bexar County Jail. Because we also believe in employers taking care of their employees. When an employee works a difficult, stressful job for long hours, but still struggles financially, it can lead to that employee being irritable, and even violent to both inmates, family, and other employees. Frankly, $30,000 annually is not enough for someone to support a family no matter what type of employment it is. This still does not excuse unjust aggression by anyone who has taken an oath to protect their community, but frankly, you cannot achieve accountable and compassionate law enforcement if you do not make sure to take care of those employees with great benefits, pay, and clear and transparent rules for discipline. That being said, this part of the agreement has to go hand-in-hand with full transparency, accountability, and strong discipline.
We are also glad that the community's outcry over the past year against outside arbitrators using subjective opinions to bring back any officer, whether that's police or sheriff's deputies, has brought change. The Civil Service Commission has always been an option for appeal to a termination or suspension, but we know that law enforcement has sided with arbitrators, who do not even represent our community, because they have a higher chance to get their job back even after the most egregious misconduct. We as the community deserve a say in who serves us and our loved ones.
Finally, a civilian review board for county law enforcement has long been overdue, but we need to be wary of the fact that this board closely mirrors the same one we have at the city level for SAPD- which was recently named the worst civilian oversight system out of the 5 major Texas cities in 2020 by Rice University. That is because this advisory board only has basic review powers, and not auditor or monitor responsibilities like other cities. That means that the board is not able to give policy recommendations nor run independent investigations. It should also be made clear that the board simply gives a recommendation on discipline, but don’t make any decisions themselves. Finally, the board also falls under the collective bargaining agreement, meaning it is not truly independent from the sway of the deputies association. This is a step in the right direction- but should by no means be considered the best solution. We can still do better.Ananda Tomas, Act 4 SA executive director
The cases that go before the new board are decided by the sheriff, complainant deputy, or respondent deputy.
The board will then give advice after hearing evidence in the case.
“Ultimately, it’s my decision to make,” Salazar said.
The sheriff can agree or disagree with their recommendations and go from there.
“Should a deputy disagree with my discipline? It’s the way it is now. They can take it to the Civil Service Board,” Salazar said.
That means no more third-party arbitrators.
The revamped Civil Service Board will consist of seven people instead of three who county commissioners and the county judge appoint.
“It’s a big step forward and a breakthrough in terms of having greater accountability of deputies,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
Salazar said it keeps control over the process local, and the citizens impacted by those decisions get their voices heard.
“They’ve got to live with the consequences of, you know, keeping somebody in a profession that maybe doesn’t need to be anymore,” Salazar said.
Should the civil service board disagree with one of Salazar’s terminations, they have the power to overturn it.
“That part is not going to change. The part that will change is the ability for an out-of-state arbitrator to come in and make that change,” Salazar said.
In his announcement Monday, Salazar mentioned his office would not release body-worn camera footage in 10 days like commissioners asked for last month. Instead, they would need 30 days.
This CBA still needs to be signed off on by county commissioners.
The BCSO announcement comes as talks are still happening between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association. One of the big sticking points in that collective bargaining agreement is refining the arbitration process. After 11 months of negotiating, there is still no contract. The next meeting between the city and SAPOA is happening on January 31st.